Readers' Theater


Contact me at stevehooper60@yahoo.com

Readers’ Theaters are great!

Kids love them. They encourage reading.

These plays were written by a teacher especially to solve the problem of those students who are easily distracted or have problems learning to read.



The Cave

Narrator 1

Narrator 2

Sam

Seth

Shelly

Sheila

The People of the Cave

Narrator 1: Long ago, people would go into caves.

Narrator 2: Instead of just looking at all the wonderful formations, they would break off pieces that may have taken tens of thousands of years to form.

Narrator 1: Some marked their names into the walls of these ancient structures.

Narrator 2: People who visit these places today see only the stumps of long gone formations.

Narrator 1: When the thoughtless people die, they are banished into a special cave in the mountains of California.

Sheila: Hey look! A Cave!

Seth: Wow! I’ve never seen that one before.

Sam: Yeah. We’ve been by here at least ten times and I’ve never seen it either.

Shelly: Let’s go check it out!

Sheila: We should go get some lights and stuff.

Seth: That’s right. Fifty feet beyond the entrance it’ll be pitch dark.

Sam: You won’t be able to see your hand in front of your face.

Shelly: Really?

Sheila: It’ll be kind of cold too.

Narrator 2: The four kids go back to their campsite and get flashlights.

Narrator 1: They also pick up sweatshirts, water, and a bit of food.

Shelly: Well, in we go!

Sam: Wow. The entrance is big. It appears to go straight back into the mountain.

Sheila: It seems to be fairly level as well.

Seth: I’m turning on my light.

Shelly: Look at this huge room!

Sam: Hello!

The People of the Cave: Hello!

Sheila: Hey! What an echo!

Narrator 2: No one notices that there is no echo this time.

Seth: Hello!

The People of the Cave: Hello!

Shelly: We are well. How are you?

The People of the Cave: We are well too.

Narrator 1: The four kids mistake the “too” for “How are you?”

Sam: Hey look! Stalactites and stalagmites.

Sheila: They look weird.

Shelly: They sure do. They should be solid rock, kind of whitish in color.

Seth: They are clear. They look like rock candy.

Sam: I’ll check it out.

The People of the Cave: Don’t touch the formations in the cave!

Sheila: Hey! Who said that?

The People of the Cave: We are the guardians of the cave.

Shelly: Oh my goodness! There are ghosts in here!

The People of the Cave: Don’t touch the formations.

Seth: Why not?

The People of the Cave: You will destroy them.

Sam: Let’s get out of here! Now!

The People of the Cave: No. Sorry, but no.

Sheila: What do they mean?

The People of the Cave: You must learn our lesson first.

Shelly: There’s probably just a speaker somewhere. This is a trick.

The People of the Cave: That’s what they always say – at first.

Seth: Yeah. Great, guys. You’ve had your fun. Now shut up and go away.

The People of the Cave: We’ll be quiet for a while. We cannot go away.

Sam: Whatever. Let’s go.

Narrator 2: The four have forgotten about the stalactites and stalagmites.

Narrator 1: They continue into the cave having convinced themselves that the mysterious voices are coming from hidden speakers.

Sheila: There are two passages here.

Shelly: Take the one on the right. If we always go right, we can get back easily by always going left.

Seth: That way we won’t get lost.

Sam: Holy guacamole!

Sheila: What?

Sam: Look at the ceiling! It looks like it’s covered with gumdrops!

Shelly: I love gumdrops! Especially the black ones!

The People of the Cave: Don’t disturb the formations in the cave.

Seth: Go get one, Sheila!

Sheila: Got one! I’m going to eat it!

The People of the Cave: You have failed the lesson!

Sheila: OW! It’s a rock! It chipped my tooth! OW! OW! OW!

The People of the Cave: You have to pay for your failures.

Shelly: Now let’s really get out of here.

Sam: Yeah, let’s go.

Seth: All we have to do is go left.

Narrator 2: The four hurriedly make their way back.

Narrator 1: They keep to the left, but soon they arrive in a room exactly like the one they left.

Narrator 2: They stop suddenly.

Sheila: (whispering) Holy roly-poly. Money.

Sam: Lots of money.

Shelly: Let’s get some.

The People of the Cave: Don’t touch the formations in the cave.

Sam: Oh, do shut-up. I’m grabbing a handful

Seth: So Am I.

Shelly: So am I.

Sheila: So am I.

The People of the Cave: Don’t do it! It’ll hurt!

Sam: OW!

Seth: OUCH!

Shelly: Aye! Yowch!

Sheila: Wowch!

Sam: It cut my leg as I put it in my pocket!

Shelly: I’m bleeding!

Sheila: So am I!

The People of the Cave: You have failed the lesson. Don’t touch anything in the cave.

Sheila: It hurts!

The People of the Cave: Failed lessons can be painful and costly.

Sam: We’ve really got to get out of here.

The People of the Cave: You won’t leave until learn the lesson.

Seth: What lesson?

The People of the Cave: Boy, you don’t listen very well.

Narrator 1: The four kids try to escape, but again they find themselves back in the same room.

Narrator 2: They stop short when they get there.

Narrator 1: A dazzling sight awaits them.

Shelly: Gold.

Sheila: And diamonds.

The People of the Cave: Don’t touch the formations in the cave.

Sam: Yeah. Don’t touch them.

Shelly: What? Are you crazy? Look at all this gold and these jewels!

Seth: Wow. It must be worth a fortune.

Sheila: Sam is right. Don’t touch it. It’ll be bad.

Sam: Not just for us. For the cave too.

The People of the Cave: You have learned the lesson.

Sam: Whoa! Hey there! The gold is gone!

Shelly: No it’s not! It’s right there!

Sheila: I still see it, but it’s not right. It’s bad for the cave to take it.

The People of the Cave: You have learned the lesson.

Sheila: Ah! The diamonds are gone. There is the exit. Why didn’t we see it?

Seth: You’re crazy! I’m taking this gold!

Shelly: I’m getting this huge diamond.

The People of the Cave: Don’t touch the formations in the cave.

Sam: Let’s get out of here, Sheila.

Sheila: I’m right behind you, Sam.

Sam: But what about Seth and Shelly?

Sheila: We’ll try to convince them to come with us. If they don’t come, we’ll have to leave them here.

The People of the Cave: They have not yet learned the lesson.

Sam: Come on, Seth and Shelly! We need to go. There is really no gold here.

Sheila: Shelly, there are no diamonds. The people of the cave are tricking you.

The People of the Cave: They cannot leave until they have learned the lesson.

Seth: I’m taking this gold.

Narrator 1: As Seth grabs a huge chunk of gold, the wall of the cave closes tightly around his hands, trapping and crushing them cruelly.

Seth: AAAAYYYY!

Narrator 2: Shelly turns in horror, a huge rock that she thinks is a diamond is in her hands.

Narrator 1: It drags her to the ground.

Narrator 2: She still thinks it’s a diamond and she refuses to let go.

Sam: We’ve got to go, Sheila.

Sheila: We’ll go get help. We’ll be back, Seth and Shelly!

Narrator 1: Sam and Sheila emerge into the sun.

Narrator 2: It appears as if no time has passed since they went into the cave.

Narrator 1: Seth and Shelly come out seconds later.

Seth: Wow. You’re still here. We’ve been in there for weeks.

Sheila: You look awful!

Narrator 2: Both Seth and Shelly are beaten, bruised, and bleeding.

Shelly: It took us a while to learn the lesson.

The People of the Cave: But they did learn the lesson, and learn it well, they did!

The End

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Bonus for getting this far:

The War in the Garden

 

          Plimpy walked out to his garden to do his tending that he religiously engaged in each Saturday at exactly 10:23 A.M.. Being a creature absurdly obsessed with habit, he could not go out any earlier and he became horribly agitated if late. If he could not go out because of rain (or the threat thereof), he’d pace the house, trying to occupy himself with something else, but always failing, returning to pacing the halls, kitchen, living room, halls again.

Today was sunny, but not hot; breezy, with the scent of salt coming off the ocean six miles to the west. As always, he began with the section of his pristine garden that housed the tomato plants. There were four Roma tomato plants; each kept the same size and shape, each limited to the same number of buds, flowers, or nubile tomatoes depending on their stage of development. Plimpy recoiled in horror, his floppy yellowish garden hat cocking askew on his massive mound of curly red hair.

One of his beloved oblong tomatoes had a bite taken out of it. It wasn’t a smaller one or a slightly misshapen one; it was one of the perfects. This incidence troubled him as much as a family emergency might, if he had any communication with his family. For a time, he was paralyzed with anxiety. Finally, he shook himself free and began to take action. He carefully and lovingly cut the injured fruit from the plant. He then chose matching tomatoes from the other three plants and, with great sorrow, amputated them.

He could not eat the perfect tomatoes that had been removed. They were part of the sacrifice. Plimpy believed in equality. He put them in the bucket that housed all the other unfortunate fruit and vegetables that had suffered the same fate. These lost souls could not be thrown in the trash. They could not be buried or burned, nor could they be thrown over the neighbor’s fence like the dog’s droppings. Perish the thought.

Then, when he’d properly laid the tomatoes to rest, Plimpy began to wonder what had bitten his precious child. He gazed around the yard, hoping to see the culprit. There was a squirrel on the wall that looked innocent enough. A Stellar’s Jay perched on the neighbor’s hibiscus bush (a horrible waste of water and soil nutrients because it gave no fruit) looked suspect, but it flew off before he could complete his investigation. Suddenly, Plimpy looked at his watch; a bulky contraption with lots of useless features, and noticed that it was 11:55, twelve minutes past time to go inside and dust the silverware. He never actually used the silverware. He only used plastic forks and such because he believed putting metal in one’s mouth caused body odor. He often wondered where his body odor came from because he had not used metal utensils since he had last showered, and that was a long time ago.

As he frantically dusted (he had to dust each piece individually), because he was late and did not wish to run into his next time slot which began in exactly 19 minutes at 12:21, he considered his crisis in the garden. Plimpy’s schedule was jammed with inane tasks until 6:00 P.M. Even if he got some epiphany between now and then, he would be able to do nothing until then.

It was while he was arranging the eggs at 3:41 P.M. that he hit upon a brilliant strategy. He’d set up a stake-out. He’d sit in that garden until he discovered the culprit. At exactly 6:00, he finished counting the Froot-Loops. Plimpy only ate Froot-Loops because he believed all other breakfast foods caused the B.O. that seemed to always surround him. He had to make certain that there was an odd but not a prime number of Loops in the box. This was to protect against any increase in the unpleasant smells that even now emanated up from his shirt and pants.

Darkness came as the autumn sun dropped below the horizon, relieved to no longer have to watch over this Plimpy character, as he went about his frenzied, albeit meaningless existence. Plimpy regretted seeing the sun go, even though the feelings were by no means mutual. He set up his dilapidated lawn chair, got his binoculars with the dirty lenses and cracked case, perched his dopey hat precariously atop his mop-head, and prepared a bottle of milk to sustain him through any possible drawn-out siege.

As soon as he got his immense bottom comfortable in the creaky, straining chair, he remembered that he’d need a light. Grudgingly, his knees cracked and popped; protesting the great weight that had been suddenly thrust upon them, while at the same time, the chair groaned with relief as its burden was miraculously lifted. Plimpy had several dozen flashlights, each kept for the contingency of the failure of the others. One Saturday job was to thoroughly check, clean, and rotate the batteries of each flashlight.

One flashlight would not be sufficient for this mission because of the myriad of problems that could occur, so he brought them all. Once again, Plimpy lowered his considerable bulk into the loudly protesting lawn chair and he settled down to watch. Accept for the continual creaking of the chair as Plimpy shifted his weight, the loud and labored wheezing that came from his open mouth and bulbous nose, and the frequent trumpeting of horribly malodorous farts, all was silent.

Alert for the slightest clue that might reveal the perpetrator he sought, he was quite ready when the ‘possum came sauntering along the wall. The ‘possum looked at Plimpy insolently and Plimpy shouted,

“YOU!”

The ‘possum showed no concern and jumped down into the garden. Plimpy bawled,

“Hey!”

The ‘possum walked over to the tomatoes, considered the choices for a second, stood on hind legs, and took a single bite out of one of the finest specimens.

Desperately, Plimpy fought the urge to faint. He flailed his arms, kicked his legs, and screamed shrilly at the ‘possum. The ‘possum casually left the garden, but still Plimpy thrashed and wailed. A window opened on the second floor of his neighbor’s house.

“Shut up, you brainless goof!”

The horrible teenager that lived on the other side of him appeared soon after on his upper deck and hurled a water balloon with uncanny accuracy.

          The balloon struck the side of Plimpy’s mop-covered head, exploding ice-cold water all over his oily, pockmarked face and down his filthy shirt.

          “There, you pond-scum! Now you don’t have to shower for another year! Now go to bed, you crazy hippo!”

          Plimpy toppled over, the chair stuck firmly around the perimeter of his expansive backside. He rolled to his knees and with some effort, stood; the chair still firmly ensconcing his behemoth butt. He began to push on the armrests of the chair in an effort to free himself. In the process, he stepped on his floppy garden hat that had been dislodged and doused by the water balloon.

          Stepping on his own hat was an offense against himself that was intolerable. In great distress, he removed his grubby old combat boot from his precious hat and in doing so, lost his already tenuous balance. He landed as heavily as a falling Sequoia, straight on the poor chair which perished immediately in several pieces.

          “Oh. I’d better call it a night,” he said aloud to himself and shuffled into the house, leaving the box of flashlights, his untouched milk, and the carcass of the lawn chair that was now resting in peace.

          In the morning, Plimpy surveyed the damage while simultaneously picking pieces of balloon out of the red mop that covered his dented and misshapen cranium. He knew he would have to skip church again in order to solve this problem. It seemed he had a problem every Sunday that caused him to have to skip church. The sprinklers had run sometime in the night. Plimpy had no idea how to control the sprinklers. In fact, he had no clue where the controls were.

          The flashlights were soaking wet. The milk was diluted and sour, but he’d have to drink it anyway. “You have to drink your milk,” was what his mother always used to say. The binoculars were half full of water. The interior mirrors would be permanently marked because of the hard water deposits. The only thing not affected by the sprinklers and the night elements was the lawn chair and that was only because it was already dead.

          It took most of the day for Plimpy to completely dry every part of all the flashlights. He unceremoniously threw the dead lawn chair over the neighbor’s fence. As he was returning to the house, the chair came flying back over along with some other unpleasant items Plimpy had discarded previously. Next came a 5 gallon bucketful of water that had the collected dog’s droppings that Plimpy had deposited over the fence for the past couple weeks. The feces had dissolved in the water and become a horrendous mud. It splashed all over Plimpy’s patio sending a sickening stench throughout the yard.

          That night, Plimpy again planted his substantial enormity in sight of the garden. Since he had no chair, he had to sit directly on the cold concrete of the patio. He immediately noticed a putrid smell that was not a part of the familiar odors that mysteriously followed him around. He was again prepared with binoculars, milk (albeit sour), and the flashlights. Vaguely, he again noticed the disagreeable smell. He glanced around to try to identify the source, but he could see nothing that might be the cause.

          “No matter,” he dismissed. Like clockwork, the ‘possum appeared. Plimpy became agitated and cast around for some weapon, some way of banishing this varmint for good. Nothing of use was to be found, as he could never throw a perfectly good flashlight, nor could he throw the milk jar because he would not think of not drinking his milk. He watched helplessly as the dastardly ‘possum took a single bite out of another perfect tomato from the same plant, thus ensuring the demise of four more tomatoes.  Plimpy sat in helpless dismay and watched the tragedy unfold before him.

          Dejected, Plimpy shuffled back in the house after nearly an hour of morose muttering and musing out on the stinking patio. The smell from it followed him lingeringly into the house and into his soiled bed, melding in with the resident fumes, all becoming brothers, a fraternal order of funk, permanently inhabiting his sheets and his person. Sleep did not come easy. Grand schemes for the destruction of the rapscallion rolled through his imagination.

          Each scheme was more violent than the next. He began with a fantasy of catching the beast in his hands and giving it a good scolding. The following scenario intensified to beating it with a garden stake. The culminating situation involved fire-bombing the entire garden. He settled on simple murder. Content in his decision, he slept. The next morning, he went out to buy guns.

          The gun store owner ended up throwing him out almost immediately. He saw this immensely fat man come through the door with his scruffy, red, 3 day growth of beard, his rumpled and dirty coverall, and his droopy eyes set deep in his oily face. When this disgusting creature asked for a powerful handgun, the owner first asked him politely to leave, then more forcefully, until he and his burly assistant threw him bodily out onto the pavement.

          Undaunted, Plimpy drove his beat-up Mazda across town into the neighborhood where the “undesirables” lived.  He knew he’d find someone that would sell him a gun there. Plimpy found one of these “undesirables” lounging against a low-slung Honda that had parts other than Honda-Certified under the hood.

          “Wha choo wan, Holmes?” the undesirable was amused.

          “My name is not Holmes,” Plimpy was indignant.

          The undesireable snorted, “Get outta here, Holmes.”

          “But I need a gun,” Plimpy whined.

          “Oh? Gonna cost ya, Holmes.”

          “How much?”

          “For this fine piece,” the undesirable pulled a filthy pistol out of his trunk, “it’ll be $500.”

          “OK, I’ll write you a check.”

          “Cash, Holmes.”

          “Cash? I haven’t that much cash!”

          “Go get it. I’ll wait 10 minutes.” The undesirable pointed to a nearby liquor store with a large, illuminated ATM sign in the window.

          “OK. Wait right here.”

          The undesirable snorted again. He looked around for any sign of police. This couldn’t be real. But then, the horrendously fat man was waddling across the street, comically cautioning oncoming cars with an outstretched palm. Five minutes later he returned along the same path employing the same technique. The fool held out his money when he was still about fifteen feet away. The undesirable sweated for a second, then snatched the thick stack of twenty dollar bills. He turned and counted them carefully.

          “Give me the gun.”

          The undesirable thought for a second of stiffing the guy. Then for whatever reason, reached into the trunk and pulled out the pistol. It was a Springfield Armory 1911. It shot .45 caliber bullets, making it a very powerful weapon. It had been ill-used and was quite dirty. Its parts moved stiffly and was covered with a sticky black film. The undesirable was glad to get rid of it. He’d never cleaned a gun before and had little respect for people who did. When one gun quit working (which was often), he’d just get another and sell the “ruined” one.

          “How does it work?” asked Plimpy.

“Your problem.  You got bullets?”

“ Bullets? No.”

“Lucky you. I’ve got a special. Box of 20 for $40.”

That was nearly twice the price that Plimpy would pay at the sporting goods store. The box that he got was old and beat up.

“I’m glad I got extra money, then.”

“Hmmph. I was right.” thought the undesirable,

          Plimpy took his prize and drove off, his Mazda spewing exhaust back at the undesirable. When he got home, he took the gun into his garage and immediately set about trying to figure out how it worked. He found a button on the side of the grip and pushed it. The clip popped out of the bottom of the grip and clattered to the floor. With dawning horror, Plimpy saw that the clip was full of bullets. The gun had been loaded and was even now ready to fire.

          The care with which Plimpy now handled the firearm was increased tenfold. He carefully examined the mechanisms that allowed the gun to function. He pushed back on the top of the pistol and noticed that it moved. He exerted more pressure and it slid back stiffly. He engaged the slide catch and it stayed open. A bullet was stuck in the powder fouled chamber. With some relief, Plimpy retrieved it and set it safely aside.

          Plimpy spent the next 5 ½ hours painstakingly cleaning the weapon. He scrubbed it with hot soapy water and wiped it dry and scrubbed it again. He got every bit of muck out of every nook and cranny, every groove and spring. He had a great deal of practice cleaning things like this, because he spent a great deal of his time cleaning the inner workings of everything he owned, from blenders to flashlights. Further, he had some innate light guiding his nimble fingers. By the time he had the gun put back together, it was shiny stainless steel and its parts moved smoothly. It was now well worth the $540 he’d spent on it.

          He carefully reloaded the clip. He set aside the clip without inserting it into the gun. He began to plan the assault that was going to take place that evening.  He put together provisions for the bivouac including the flashlights, milk, a tattered pillow to sit on, and the gun, of course. He decided he’d slip out of the house under the cover of darkness this time, giving himself the advantage of surprise. As soon as it was full dark, he set out.

          The ‘possum came at the appointed time. Plimpy shoved the clip into its receptacle, flicked the slide catch down, and heard the satisfying snap as the slide slammed silkily and smoothly closed. He pointed the weapon at the ‘possum with what he considered deadly aim.  In fact, he had never fired a gun before and had no clue how to properly aim or fire, luckily for the ‘possum. He pulled the trigger and the heavy pistol jumped wildly, nearly flying out of his limp grip.

          A tremendous CRACK reverberated around the yard, into Plimpy’s ears and around his head. He was so startled that he soiled his pants and almost began to cry. As it was, he squealed nearly as loud as the report of the gunshot. The bullet missed its mark by twenty-five feet and struck the block wall that delineated the back of Plimpy’s property. It ricocheted wildly into the air and fortunately fell harmlessly into the hillside several blocks from his house. The commotion attracted the attention of Plimpy’s unpleasant neighbors.

          Plimpy sat in nearly total darkness on his still stinking patio. The light from his neighbor’s backyard floodlights illuminated the very edge of Plimpy’s yard and since he sat in the middle he was ensconced in darkness. The teenager was the first to come out.

          “What are you doing, you crazy stinking hippo? I know you’re out there. My dad is calling the cops, you sewer pipe reject!”

          A powerful light went on and began to sweep the yard from the other side.

          “I’ll find him, Ed. Go get a balloon or two.”

          “Alright, Sam! We gotta hurry before the cops get here!”

          The teenager disappeared into the house and the spotlight continued to sweep the yard. Plimpy, however, had scooped up the ejected shell casing and then had begun to worm his way back toward the house the second he heard the teenager come out. By the time the teenager returned with a few water balloons filled with a horrible mix of super-hot habanera hot sauce, vinegar, and honey, Plimpy was in bed, his equipment stashed, the gun and brass casing hidden in a secret compartment below the stairs.

          When the police arrived and rapped their flashlights on his door, Plimpy had actually been asleep for a few minutes. He answered with bleary eyes and tousled hair. His look immediately removed forty percent of the suspicion from the officers’ minds. This guy was a total dork. They knew that dorks could be bad, but this guy had obviously been asleep and he seemed genuinely bewildered as to why they were there. They asked to see the yard and Plimpy said, “Of course, why?” They said that they just wanted to look around. Plimpy suggested that they might have the wrong house.

          Everything went fine, especially since the cops wanted to get out of that stinking yard. They wanted to know what stunk, but Plimpy had no idea, so he could not illuminate the subject. Then an officer found where the bullet had struck the wall. There was a circular crater in the block. Plimpy said that that was where he had accidentally hit the wall with a garden mattock, a pick-like tool used to dig trenches and the like. The police asked to see the mattock. Its point fit nearly perfectly into the blemish. Its height was about right and the garden around it had obviously been tended with a similar tool.

          As the police left, Plimpy suggested that perhaps his rude and vindictive neighbors had set him up. He also suggested that the reason his patio stunk might be a result of something horrible his evil neighbor had perpetrated upon him. The cops had no desire to become involved in an ugly neighborhood dispute if they didn’t have to, so they left. Plimpy had long since convinced himself that nothing at all had ever happened, so he went back to bed and fell immediately asleep. Both his neighbors could not understand why Plimpy had not been taken away to jail, the insane asylum, or worse.

          Sam, Ed and Ed’s father, Kurt, stood out in the street for hours talking about what had happened and what they were going to do about it. Sam suggested that they get some night vision cameras because The Blimp would assuredly try again tomorrow night. Kurt agreed and said that he could borrow a couple of cameras from work. They planned to be ready when the Puke-Barge came out. “Just make sure you let the ‘possum out at the same time,” said Ed.

          In the morning, Plimpy decided that the gun was not the right tool to use to eliminate this grave threat to his tomatoes. Ed, Sam, and Kurt decided that they should call the cops just as Sam released his pet ‘possum, so that they would have a better chance of catching that fat sow with the evidence in his hand. That day saw the neighbors rigging up cameras and illuminating spots, and Plimpy sadly evening up the tomatoes, as there had (inexplicably) been another casualty the previous night.

          Later, as the neighbors got together to drink beer and watch the college football game, Plimpy set about preparing his new plan. He spent the rest of the day in the garage fabricating a trap. It was ingenious, really. He wound his own springs out of baling wire and tied pieces of scrap metal with that same wire. By the time he finished, he had a fine creation, a foolproof trap that he might have marketed with great success had he been so inclined. He set the trap out in a randomly selected spot and settled down to wait.

          The neighbors slunk out from their homes at the appointed time. Ed and his father belly-wormed their way out onto their upper deck as silently as they could, armed with night-vision binoculars that they had purchased that afternoon from the same gun shop that Plimpy had been thrown out of a few days before. They trained their eye-gear on the solitary figure sitting next door in the darkness. On the other side, Sam slipped out to the ‘possum cage and, with a few whispered words of encouragement and command, he released the ‘possum.

          Both neighbors heard the metallic snap of the trap closing at the same time. They also heard Plimpy’s triumphant cry ring through the otherwise silent night. Sam’s stomach lurched as the realization that his precious ‘possum was caught, hit him like a skilled boxer’s snapping body shot to the gut. Ed and his father both dropped their binoculars and flushed at the realization that they had just been bested by the fat moron next door. Both neighbors, at the same time, felt rage rise to the top of their heads, threatening, and then actually bursting forth with ill-conceived action. Both neighbors fled into their homes and called the police.

           At the same moment, the two neighbors reported gunfire. They said, independently, that their mentally ill neighbor had fired a gun in his backyard, and that a pet was dead. Their anger had convinced them of the truthfulness of their stories. The police arrived within minutes. They burst into Plimpy’s yard, guns drawn, barrels down but at the ready, fingers off triggers, but also ready to violently engage any suspect instantaneously, if needed. When they saw Plimpy dancing triumphantly (and not a little bit stupidly) next to the trapped ‘possum, they quickly holstered their weapons.

          After assessing the situation in Plimpy’s yard, the police moved their investigation to the neighbor’s homes. Some of the officers present had been there during the previous incident. They had noted that there were no additional questionable marks anywhere. There were no shell casings. The ‘possum was very much alive and something smelled, both figuratively and literally. They remembered what the overweight male had said the last time they had been there. These officers relayed this information to their comrades. After a brief conference, they decided to question the neighbors.

          Since no official report had been filed by the two neighbors, their false call was labeled a “mistake”. Warnings were issued and the police left. The reports that were filed by the police included the facts that shots were reported as being fired, though they were not. Also, Plimpy’s assertion that his neighbors were out to get him was officially reported. The live ‘possum was noted as well. Sam sat in Ed and his dad’s living room discussing these facts. Plimpy had not thought of these things. He was mechanically inclined, but logic escaped him. He fell asleep wondering why the police had come a second time.

          The animal control people came the next day and Sam was beside himself with fury and frustration as he watched out his front window as they took away his pet. He went down to their offices and tried to claim it, but they wouldn’t believe that it was domesticated. Further, they had already driven it into the local mountains where they had released it, and it had been eaten almost immediately by a lucky coyote. Though Sam never knew this last part, his rage smoldered and grew hotter as he drove home. The incessant traffic added to his ire so that by the time he arrived back home he was in a fit of black fury.

          Sam went directly to his garage and got out his “special cookbook.” He gathered several household ingredients and cooked and mixed them in proper temperatures and proportions. He carefully packed them into a 2 liter soda bottle, drilled a small hole in the cap and affixed a fuse. He set the volatile concoction aside and sat down to plan his attack. Meanwhile, Ed and his father had conferred with each other and decided that the situation had gotten more than slightly out of hand. They determined that a time away was in order. They left for their small mountain cabin that evening.

          At precisely 8:30 that night, a tremendous explosion ripped through the night. A brilliant flash preceded it and a luminous mushroom cloud followed. The wall to the rear of Plimpy’s house was blown partially through the windows of the house behind. Plimpy’s garden was incinerated. All of the windows in the back of Plimpy’s house were shattered. Pieces of masonry flew through both Sam’s and Ed’s windows. The tool shed in Plimpy’s yard gave up a secondary explosion as the gas containers stored there for use with the various internal combustion powered yard tools caught fire and burst forth with more fire. A third explosion occurred when the Liquid Petroleum Gas cans that the neighbors behind had stored in a small shed also violently ruptured in flame.

          The calls to the police were this time many and varied. Plimpy was corralled on the next block, having fled the conflagration in abject terror. Once the police had abdicated Plimpy of any involvement in the fray, and had ascertained that Ed and his father were truly out of town, their investigation turned sharply upon Sam. The end of the night, or the wee hours of the morning, as it were, saw Sam taken away, handcuffed in a patrol car, and Plimpy surveying the significant damage done to his home, yard, and garden. His evil neighbors (both of them) had done this, he knew.

“Oh, well. Nothing to be done now,” said Plimpy to himself and he waddled up to bed.

          The next morning Plimpy went to the local big-box warehouse store and picked up cinder blocks and mortar. He spent the day repairing the wall to the rear of his property. The neighbor behind came out while he was working. He addressed Plimpy, who took the opportunity to put down his mortar trowel, wipe his brow and rest.

          “What happened last night?”

          “I don’t know,” Plimpy replied, truly unapprised of the situation

          “Looks like a bomb went off.”

          “Yes, it could be that.”

          “Whataya mean ‘could be’? Your garden is burnt to a crisp and this wall is destroyed. There was a huge boom last night and a fireball to match. Who bombed you?”

          “I can see you’re right. Oh yeah, the police took Sam to jail last night.” Plimpy picked up his trowel and began to set another cinder block precisely into position. The neighbor noticed and thought briefly that this guy must be some kind of idiot-savant.

          “Hey. You’re doing a really good job here. Why do you think Sam firebombed your yard?”

          “I really don’t know.”

          “Perhaps you might want to find out. Someone could get hurt if it happens again.”

          Plimpy ran these words through his dull mind. He never dreamed of doubting anything the other man said. He couldn’t grasp the concept, though. He finished rebuilding the wall and put away his tools. He took the broken blocks from the old wall and threw them over the fence, again thinking nothing of it moments after the deed. He then set about repairing his garden. About the time Plimpy had his garden back up and running, Sam was finally let out of jail.

          Sam had been sentenced to 3 years in jail, but he served only six months because he was very well behaved and the Sheriff’s Department ran out of jail space, so they let go a bunch of “low-risk” inmates. Sam got back home and saw both Plimpy’s new garden, as well as a tremendous pile of junk that had been deposited on his property during his absence. Sam decided that he was going to be much smarter this time about retaliating.

          Once Plimpy noticed that Sam was back home, he devised a plan to deflect a bomb, if another were to come flying over the fence. He went to a local glass and mirror store and purchased a 3 foot by 5 foot piece of thick, clear Plexiglas. He fashioned a base out of wood and metal, complete with casters so he could wheel the heavy and awkward shield into position. He finished a little after dark and wheeled it out, placing it between his again flourishing tomatoes and Sam’s yard. He then went in and went to sleep.

          Sam waited for an hour after it was full dark. He had tried earlier to enlist the help of Ed and Kurt but they would have nothing to do with him anymore. They had said that the thing had gone too far and that it was time to end it. Sam had stomped back home in a huff. He forced himself to calm down and think. He hit upon the perfect plan while staring blankly into a garage cupboard. There in the back sat his Crossman pellet gun. It was a pump-type pistol that could shoot a BB or lead pellet at a very satisfactory velocity.

          An hour after full dark, Sam slipped out to the back, armed with the pistol and plenty of BBs. He planned to put a BB through each and every tomato on Plimpy’s 4 plants. He loaded the first one and pumped air pressure into the pistol straining his eyes in the dark to make out the tomatoes. He focused on one, took careful aim and fired. The air-pistol made a quiet “poof,” he heard a metallic “crack,” and felt an intense sting hit the center of his forehead. “OUCH!” he screamed before he could control the outburst. He sat against the fence, hand on head, frantically trying to figure out what had happened.

          Blood was now trickling down, but the pain was no longer growing. Sam reloaded as quietly as possible. He rose silently took aim again, and fired. Again, the soft “poof” was followed by the metallic “crack” and searing pain across his cheek. Something was bouncing the BBs back at him. He lurched back to the house. After applying gauze and pressure to his wounds to stop the profuse flow of blood, he grabbed a flashlight and went back out. The beam of the flashlight revealed the Plexiglas with two white blemished where the two BBs had hit. Sam noticed that there was no clear shot at the tomatoes because of the shield. Intensely frustrated, he went in and went to bed.

          At the appointed time, 5:30 A.M. Plimpy’s alarm sounded, rousing him from restful sleep. The words of the man came reverberating through his mostly empty head. It was 8:30 before he came to the conclusion that he should go next door and ask Sam what was happening.  The ringing doorbell was answered by a rumpled Sam, who stumbled back 3 steps upon seeing Plimpy standing meekly in front of him.

          “Umm. I was just wondering…Umm…Why are you mad at me?”

          “What??!! You…Wha?!” Sam was incredulous. “Come here!” he screamed.

          Plimpy followed him in through the house and out to the backyard. Sam stomped over to an enormous scattering of broken blocks, plastic flower pots, empty soil bags, broken buckets, weeds, and about six months worth of dog’s droppings.

          “That,” screamed Sam, pointing with a shaking finger, “That is what I’m angry about!”

          “Oh.” Plimpy was astounded by the mess. He could hardly remember throwing any of it over, though it must be his. Sam didn’t have a dog. “Why didn’t you say something?”

          “Say something?! Say something?! What, in the name of all that is Godly, do you think you are doing, throwing all your filthy garbage over my fence? Nobody in their right mind would do such a thing!”

          “Oh. Wow. Sorry.”

          Plimpy stood there for a minute thinking stiffly. Sam was looking around for something to bash him with. Plimpy suddenly turned and walked toward the gate. “I’ll be right back.” He returned a very short time later with a large, heavy-duty wheelbarrow, some gloves and a flat-bladed shovel. It took most of the day for him to remove the entire mess. Sam set up a chair on his patio and watched with great satisfaction while Plimpy struggled to schlep away cinderblocks that had landed on the dog’s droppings that had recently preceded them over the fence.

          The job was done too fast for Sam’s liking. He wanted to watch the slob suffer. Plimpy even cultivated the ground where the mess had been and planted four small fruit trees. Sam didn’t care about the trees. He didn’t think about the fact that they would give bounty and beauty for many years to come. All Sam could see was that they would cut off his view of Plimpy’s yard, keeping him from his regular survey of Plimpy’s business, thus feeding the hatred Sam felt, that he loved to feel.

          When the job was done, Plimpy went home exhausted, but satisfied that he’d made everything right. Sam went in unsatisfied, longing for pain with a bloodlust that reached new heights, even for him. His next move struck him like an unholy epiphany. He waited until midnight. He went out and plucked the four newly planted fruit trees out of the ground. He’d take them next door and plant them branches down, right where those stupid tomato plants now stood. He shivered with gratification as he congratulated himself on his scheme that would now even things up quite nicely, maybe.

          No noise came from the gate as it swung silently open. The guy was a slob, thought Sam to himself, but he kept everything that was mechanical in top working condition. The gate made not a sound, but Sam’s footsteps still awoke Pooh-Bear, Plimpy’s dog. Sam made his way out to the back and Pooh-Bear padded soundlessly behind. Sam dropped his load of young fruit trees. He walked over to the tomato plants and was about to reach in and rip the first one out when he heard a low, but very frightening growl. Sam slowly turned to see the most enormous dog that probably ever existed. It was jet-black, jowly, muscular beyond belief, and humongous. Slowly the name, Neapolitan Mastiff          , passed through his mind, followed by the few facts that he knew: guard dog that must never be trained as an attack animal, fiercely loyal, incredibly strong.

          Sweat began to pour from ever gland. Sam’s knees turned to jelly as he tried to stare down the ferocious dog. “How could I have never seen this beast before?” he muttered aloud. The dog took a step forward. The fact was that Sam was so fixated on hating Plimpy and his oddities, that he had been blinded to the dog. He had simply overlooked it time after time after time. Sam now put his hand out and futilely began to talk to the horror that stood before him. “OK, doggy, nice doggy, I’m just going to walk slowly out of here, OK?” The fence was about 20 long paces away. Perhaps 3 sideward steps around the dog were all Sam could manage before he began to run for his sweet life.

          Pooh-Bear gave him a head start. It took two bounds to catch up. He could have simply turned his head and ripped out the trespasser’s throat, but he was not a stupid dog. A dead neighbor would be bad for him and his beloved owner. A damaged neighbor would solve many problems. Pooh-Bear’s teeth sunk deep into the thick Gluteus Maximus muscle that Sam used to sit on (he’d not do that again for quite some time). He shook lightly, just enough for Sam to slam to the ground from halfway up the fence, then let go. Pooh-Bear growled a parting warning, turned, and sauntered back contemptuously and unconcernedly into the house through his gigantic doggy door.

          Sam had adrenaline squirting into his stomach so, though he had a nasty wound, he was able to scramble over the fence and into his house. A quick look at the wound was all he could manage. The ride to the emergency room was pure torture. Every time he moved, white pain shot up to that place below the eyes where sharp pains in the butt end up. Luckily, the E.R. was empty, so he did not have to describe his injuries in front of an audience. The back of his jeans were covered in blood and they were quite shredded on the one side. It never occurred to him to make up a cover story. He’d had other things of which to think.

          The nurse in the reception area asked offhandedly how he had gotten bitten. The police were already on their way, of course. Anyone coming into the E.R. at 2:00 in the morning with a severe dog bite was going to be suspect. Sam came up with the lame excuse that he had been playing catch with his son and the ball had gone over the neighbor’s fence and he’d gone to get it and the neighbor’s dog had bitten him.

          “You were playing catch at 2:00 A.M.?” the nurse asked, indulging the fool.

          “Well, yeah. He’s just home from college.”

          The nurse snorted derisively and told Sam that they’d call him in shortly and to have a seat. Of course Sam could not sit down. In fact he couldn’t really stand either. The pain on that side back there was growing steadily. He found that if he stood on the other leg and leaned on the wall, the pain stopped growing. Soon, his leg got tired. Finally, they called him back to an examination room. Twelve sutures, six shots, and half a roll of industrial-stick hospital tape later (that would take weeks and additional torture to remove), Sam was ready to go. Unfortunately, he was told by the sarcastic admitting nurse, two police officers needed to speak to him first.

          Fortunately for Sam, Plimpy had slept through the whole thing and Pooh-Bear wouldn’t say anything. A case was never opened and Sam eventually could sit normally. He now noticed the dog every time he accidentally glanced next door. It always seemed to be staring at him. Though it only took three months, Sam thought it took forever to sell his house. A small boy named Nick moved in and immediately fell in love with Pooh-Bear. The two would frolic in Plimpy’s yard while Nick’s father got advice from Plimpy on gardening and Plimpy got advice from Nick’s dad on personal hygiene.

          Ed and his father, Kurt, soon warmed to the new and clean Plimpy. He was still quite odd but they (especially Kurt) were delighted and fascinated by Plimpy’s mechanical abilities. Kurt helped Plimpy market a few of his inventions and they both made small fortunes. The gun still sits, loaded, under the stairs.

 

    So you're teaching Open Court? (Just skip this if you don't know what I'm talking about.) Here's a story that you can use for the 4th grade "Surviving" Unit.

Tomato


Dad was yelling something at us. I couldn’t tell what it was because I was half ignoring him. It doesn’t do to completely ignore Dad. We can get away with partially ignoring him sometimes. He has a lot of patience. Something about his voice grabbed my attention this time. I poked Roland, my brother.

The sky was clear and blue above us. It was hot. We were having a great time on the slip-and-slide. We’d get running as fast as we could and then go sliding across the wet plastic, usually spinning out of control. We didn’t want to quit. It was Roland’s turn and he ignored my poke and went for a run. Dad came out to get our attention. The look on his face bothered me.

Get in the house. Now.”

But why? We just got out here,” Roland whined.

Let’s go, Ro,” I said quietly. Dad looked worried.

Dad is not the kind of guy to worry about small things. He’s strong and tough. He’s easy going most of the time, but he can be a bear if things don’t go right. Right now his eyes showed fear. That scared me because he normally isn’t scared of anything.

What’s wrong, Dad?” I asked.

Storm’s comin’. Get in the house.”

What storm?” Roland can be a pin-head.

Come to the front window and I’ll show you. It may turn out to be nothing, but I don’t like the look of it.”

We went to the big front window. Instead of clear blue sky, we saw towering, dark, gray clouds. The sky was light below them and the bases looked very ominous indeed. They moved in fast. Soon it was dark as approaching night, even though it was mid-afternoon. Lightning speared the darkening sky in the distance. Off to the left, we could see a rainsquall that looked very heavy.

Let’s eat,” Dad said.

Eat? Why? It’s only 3 o’clock!” Roland whimpered.

If this storm does what it is capable of, we’ll need to have already eaten when that happens,” Dad explained patiently.

Dad prepared dinner as quickly as he could and we ate as best as we could. We had canned soup and sandwiches. There were apples and canned peaches. I was full when we finished, and that was just in time. The rain hit in a rush, and the thunder pounded our eardrums. Lightning lit the world with strobe light flashes.

We didn’t even clean up the few plates and bowls and spoons we had used. Dad hustled us into the hall where we prepared blankets, books and flashlights. Roland asked what all this stuff was for. Dad told him there might be a tornado.

A tomato?” Roland is a dork.

Cut it out Roland. This could be very serious.” Dad sat us down and explained everything.

The towering clouds that we saw outside were super cells: areas of intense thunderstorm activity that have the ability to produce tornadoes. In order to stay safe, we would remain in the hall here, away from windows, where we would be safer from flying debris. The power was likely to go out, Dad said, and it might be pretty scary. The thing he told us most strongly was to not panic. We had to control our emotions, whatever happened. I didn’t know what that meant precisely, but I found out soon enough.

Every few minutes, Dad would get up and go peek out the window. He looked really nervous. We sat in the hall and read and talked. Roland decided to quit being a dolt for a change. Then Dad came back from a trip to the window looking very strained and nervous. I had found that if I positioned myself just right in the hallway, I could see out the window too. I saw what Dad had been looking at.

The bottom of a section of cloud seemed to be spinning into an upside-down cylinder. Well, first it was sideways, then upside-down. It was particularly menacing looking, but awesome just the same. I could see why Dad was so nervous. The cylinder changed into a funnel as it neared the ground. Then it began to grow. My guess was that it was about a mile or two away. I didn’t know in what direction it was going, but I guess Dad did.

He made us get under the mattress and blankets. We had to kneel down and cover our heads. Just before I went under the mattress, I had one last look. The thing was a monster and it was coming toward us. Roland finally got it through his thick head that we were in a serious situation and started to cry. Dad surprised me with the fury and intensity of his response. He didn’t yell. He grabbed Roland by the back of the head and spoke with a commanding voice I had never heard.

You will not cry now. You will follow my instructions immediately. You will not panic. You will not cry now! Have you got that?”

This last he said to both of us. I nodded my head and Roland sniffed, a bit taken aback. I think he expected to be coddled.

Have you got that?!” Dad said with even more intensity, if that were possible.

Yes,” I said.

Yes,” Roland said no longer crying.

Dad softened noticeably.

We are going to need to work to survive. We cannot afford to be emotional. After we are safe we can be emotional. Now we must live.” I was mulling over what I’d just seen when the tornado slammed into our house. The force of it was like a large ocean wave landing on your head. It was sudden and ferocious. Its power was beyond comprehension. It really did sound like a freight train.

We’d left the windows closed. That was the new wisdom. They used to say to open the windows to equalize the pressure, but now they’re telling us to leave them closed. It didn’t really matter. They broke anyway. The glass came flying in and ricocheted off the hallway walls. I could feel it rain down on the mattress I was under. There was tremendous cracking, splintering and slamming going on. Heavier things began to hit the mattresses.

I was beginning to feel pressed. Soon I couldn’t move. The weight on top of me got greater and greater until I began to have trouble breathing. I thought, “Wow, this is what it feels like to be crushed to death. This is what it feels like to die.” It was then I noticed that the fury and noise were passing and within a few minutes (or seconds, I don’t know which) it was gone. I began to get wet and I knew the roof of the house was gone.

Dad called out to us,

Roland, Luke, are you alright?”

I tried to respond but it was just too tight in there. I heard Roland respond and I was relieved. A great peal of thunder rocked the ground. This wasn’t over yet by any measure, I supposed. I could feel the weight lessening. Then I felt the debris being removed from me as Dad and Roland worked to uncover me. As soon as enough weight was alleviated, I shouted out that I was there and alive. This made them quite a bit more frenzied in their work.

As soon as I was free, we all hugged each other. Dad said we had to go quickly and find shelter because we would not live through another one of those, were we to be caught out in the open when one passed. Lightning was splitting the sky, thunder was roaring in our ears and rain and hail pelted our heads. We were soaked in no time.

The sky was dark with gloom, but we could see the destruction that lay around us quite clearly. It was total. Every structure within sight, and we could see for about a 10 block radius, was flattened. Flickering lightning lit the gloom as we picked our way through the rubble that was our house to the street. My mind was numb. Dad was right. I decided to try to keep it numb. I mechanically and robotically moved chunks of debris out of my way as I tramped towards what we thought should be the street. It was covered with junk so it was somewhat difficult to find.

Finally we made it out of our pile of wreckage and began making our way towards the park. Dad said that the strongest building he knew was the park office where kids could check out balls and carom sticks and such. It was squat and brick and built, for some reason, to withstand Armageddon. We could see other people emerging from their ruins, some obviously much worse for the wear. It sounds horrible, but we ignored them. Dad said that there was nothing we could do to help anybody, and if we did, we would probably end up injured or dead. That wouldn’t help Mom or Emily would it?

Ahch! I forgot to tell you about Mom and Emily. Mom and Emily were out in California. Emily is a flag twirler (she hates when I call her that; she prefers tall flag corpsman) in competitive marching band. Her flag team and the band that follows them went to the Nationals in CA. Last I heard the weather was 79 degrees and breezy. I wondered if they’d heard we’d been hit.

We were picking our way down the street towards the park. It was really difficult because the path was littered with rubbish. Also, it was pretty dark. Most of all, all the landmarks were gone. That made it very hard to be sure of where we were going. The lightning was flickering quite a bit. Suddenly, Roland collapsed on the ground as if his legs had turned to noodles. He lay there twitching.

I almost kicked him and screamed at him to get up, that this was no time to screw around. I looked in his face and saw his eyes rolled back, his mouth spazzing out. He really was having a fit. Dad immediately moved all the debris from around him. He ordered me to stand over him so that the rain would not fill his mouth. I was supposed to be ready to move out of the way if he twitched suddenly. We had to be careful that he didn’t hurt himself. That would be a real peach; he hurts himself having a fit in the street after living through a serious tomato. I mean tornado.

Roland went on convulsing for a good ten minutes. After he quieted down Dad explained that Roland had had a Grand Mal seizure. Strictly translated, that means big bad seizure. A disease called Epilepsy causes them. The flashes of lightning set the seizure off. Roland had never had a seizure before. We’d have to see the doctor about this if we ever made it through.

Dad had to carry Roland after that. He was weak and did not feel good. I felt really bad about having thought of kicking him. I played over in my mind what would have happened if I had done that. What a nightmare. Soon, we saw the park building. It was still standing. I was wondering how we were going to get in. I was wet, cold, and scared. I prayed that the door was unlocked.

Just as we got to the building a large bolt of lightning lit the earth. In bold contrast to the electric blue sky, we saw another funnel cloud, at least as big as the first one. It was maybe a thousand yards away. The wind was terrific and stuff was flying around us. We ran the rest of the way to the park building. The door was unlocked. We wrenched the door opened and slid inside. It slammed behind us with a little help from the wind.

Inside the building two teenagers were huddled under a desk shivering with fear. They were so happy to see my Dad that they began to cry. Dad told them the same thing he told us, in much the same tone. They got hold of themselves pretty quick. The boy’s name was Vern and the girl was Shelly. They were not a couple, I could tell, just co-workers. Dad asked Vern and Shelly where the bathroom was. I thought this was strange. I hadn’t gone for a while now, but the last thought on my mind was the bathroom.

Vern showed Dad the bathroom and he ordered everybody in. He left for a while and came back with cushions from the old couch in the back office. We all held cushions around our head (except Dad, there wasn’t enough for him to have one) and waited. This time the noise was not so loud. The building shimmied and shook, but it did not give way. The roof stayed on. There was only one mishap.

A piece of wood, about 12 inches long and 2 inches wide came shooting through the window. Now the windows were glass and had broken out with the first tornado. The widows were covered with security screens to keep people from breaking into the office and stealing the basketballs and carom sticks. Well, this piece of wood came screaming through the window at better than 200 miles per hour. It passed through the drywall of the bathroom, completely missing any stud. It skimmed across Dad’s forehead splitting it opened like a boiled tomato. It bled profusely.

I think that was the most scared that I ever was that whole night. I got pretty scared that night but that was the worst. His face was covered with blood. Amazingly he touched his face, looked at the blood all over his hand, and immediately went to the sink and washed off the wound. He took paper towels and pressed them to the cut. He asked Vern where the first aid kit was. “In the office,” said Vern.

The tornado had passed, so Dad went to the office and got out some gauze, tape and sterilizing cream. He plastered the cream all over the cut. That must have really hurt, but he made no sign that it did. He put three large gauze pads over the 3-inch cut and then taped it down. I thought about how it was going to pull his hair out when he tried to remove it. He looked at me and said, as if he had read my mind, “I’m going to shave my head.”

Dad set about getting beds ready for everyone. Vern turned out to be a stand-up guy. He helped Dad as much as he could. He volunteered to go out in the storm and watch for more tornadoes. He went out without a coat or any covering but his hat. I admired him for that. He was going to be real uncomfortable out there. Shelly really came through. She insisted that Dad sit down and rest and she took over making up sleeping spaces for us all. Dad lay down on the couch and passed out. I was falling asleep when Vern rushed in.

We piled into the bathroom. This time Vern and Dad shared a cushion. I was standing, crammed into that tiny bathroom with 4 other people thinking,

Another one? When is this going to end?”

This time the tornado was a real doozy. I felt the wind come in as the roof of our little building was ripped from its moorings. Rain pelted down upon us and we held onto our cushions and each other for dear life.

The 5 of us got buffeted around quite a bit after the roof left us. We were showered with roof tiles and wood and leaves and dirt. Again, the tornado went on its merry way, leaving us pounded and beaten. I was getting tired of this. After the tornado passed, we felt the storm ease. There was less lightning, rain and wind. We felt the intensity in the air lessen. Perhaps the storm was passing.

Dad rousted us out of our meager shelter. We had to move again, being that we were no longer safe here. Vern suggested we go to the high school. He was sure there would be a Red Cross shelter set up there. Dad slapped himself in the forehead (he’d forgotten about the cut and it started bleeding again), “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that before?”

“You couldn’t think of everything,” Shelly said comfortingly.

“Did somebody fart?” Roland asked.

We were walking across the park where there was a lot less junk in our way. There was a huge field of grass that had its share of branches, pieces of roof, and other such flotsam, but was very passable compared to the streets.

“Man, Roland, you’re such a goof!” I was really getting tired of his inappropriate jokes and comments.

“Get down!” Dad ordered.

He directed us under a large piece of corrugated sheet metal (a piece of somebody’s shed). He had seen some sparks from a downed power line. Through a small hole in the metal, I saw the sparks. The next moment I was flat on my back gasping for breath.

At the same time that we were all bowled over, a tremendous boom slammed through the again strengthening storm. As the concussion from the blast passed I could see a tremendous mushroom of fire rising from the street about 300 yards away. I could feel the heat of the fire on my face as I struggled to regain the breath that had been knocked out of my lungs by the explosion. The resultant fire speared 50 feet into the air. A gas main must have been ruptured. That’s what Roland smelled. Again, I felt the stomach-kick of guilt.

As we came shakily to our feet, we could clearly see what had happened. There was a portion of the street that had been dug up. The workers appeared to have left so hurriedly that they neglected to cover their hole with iron plates. Some flying debris must have pierced the exposed pipe. The power line did the rest. We’d have to be very careful now. Both electrical lines and gas leaks could now cause our evening to be a lot less enjoyable.

We walked away from the roaring inferno vowing to pay more attention to Roland and his odd comments. The rain picked up again but the lightning was occurring far less often. Our progress slowed to a crawl as we emerged from the park onto the street. We again had to work our way around the wreckage of tremendous destruction. As we made our way, finally, across the high school campus towards the gymnasium, we saw large trucks with big red crosses on them. We also saw three army troop carriers.

“That was fast,” Dad said.

“What was fast?” asked Shelly.

“The National Guard is here. It’s only been a few hours. The governor must really be on the ball.”

The gym was lit by portable lights running off noisy generators. As we walked in through one of three sets of double doors, we were immediately set upon by concerned Red Cross workers. Mostly they were after Dad. There were few other people taking shelter in the gym. The workers brought us to a cordoned off area that was the makeshift infirmary. An army doctor was there with a surprising amount of equipment. He began the procedures to suture Dad’s head straight away. All the while, Dad was becoming more and more agitated.

“There’re are a lot of injured people on our street. We’ve got to go get them here. They are suffering out there!”

“No. We’ve got to fix you up now. There are still tornadoes touching down. We cannot risk losing any rescuers,” the medic said.

“Hurry up, then. I’m going back out.”

A hard-jawed man in smart desert fatigues happened to be walking by at that moment. “Where are these people?”

“Over on Angus Street near where it meets the Pickle River.”

“Where’s that?”

“When this guy’s done, I’ll show you.”

The hard-jawed man turned to another soldier who stood slightly behind him looking ready for anything. “Get Johnson, Sommers, Feldman, and Plimpton. Get geared up. Get a set of gear for this man.” He angled his thumb over his shoulder towards my Dad.

“Yes sir!”

The other soldier was gone. Hard-Jaw then turned to the medic,

“Get moving Glitty. When you finish with him pack up. We’re going out.”

“Yes sir!”

The medic began to work much faster, however, he used the same skill and precision, as if a fast forward button that was installed on his butt had been pressed with the toe of someone’s boot.

The rescue team left 20 minutes later. Roland, Vern, Shelly, and I were shown to our cots. We were given dry clothes and sandwiches and milk. We ate and changed wearily. Within 15 minutes I was asleep. When I woke, the gym was full of people. Many were lying on cots bandaged up. There were news crews everywhere. Dad was on the cot next to mine sound asleep. A newswoman saw me sit up and made a beeline to my side. She was followed by a cameraman and a swarm of other reporters.

Before I was completely surrounded, I saw one of the Red Cross workers suddenly turn from her task of filling a water dispenser and begin to march authoritatively towards the melee that was encircling me, a look of profound annoyance on her face. “How does it feel to be the son of a hero?” the lady reporter asked me, thrusting a microphone in my face.

“How many people did you see get killed? Did you have to walk through a river of blood?”

The Red Cross worker waded into the crowd, pushing cameras aside and blowing a very loud, very shrill whistle.

“Have you no shame? Have you no consideration? Get out, all of you!” she screamed, enraged.

“You can’t make us leave. First amendment, freedom of the press, all that,” yelled the lady reporter.

“Colonel Lanson!” the worker called.

She stood there staring at the reporter with a mixture of pure hatred and knowing contempt in her eyes. The reporter, momentarily caught off guard by the pause stared back uncomprehendingly.

The Hard-Jawed man materialized and made his way through the crowd. He didn’t have to push any one, as the group parted in front of him as if by magic. It seemed no one wanted to find out what would happen if they obstructed. Colonel Lanson did not have to be told the situation. He addressed the reporters.

“You will leave this building now,” he said in quiet, commanding voice. “You will not re-enter unless authorized to do so by this woman here,” he said, angling his head slightly towards the Red Cross worker. “Any deviation from this procedure will result in severe consequences.”

Nobody seemed to have the nerve to ask what those consequences would be exactly, and they all sheepishly shuffled out.

The lady reporter looked back over her shoulder at me. Her eyes said, “I’m gonna get you for this.” Colonel Lanson sat down on a chair next to my cot. Roland stirred and sat up. Colonel Lanson told us everything that had happened in the night and through the morning. To my surprise, it was already 1:30 in the afternoon. It turns out that there were three F-4 tornadoes and numerous F-1 and F-2s. The town was pretty much devastated, but the section where we lived was completely obliterated.

The rescue team had gone out in a convoy of three trucks. The front truck had been a heavy troop carrier with a snowplow blade attached to the front. They bulled their way through the blocked streets until they got to our part of town. Amid hail, wind, and lightning, the crew pulled people out of the rubble. When the trucks were full they returned to the gym. More medics had been called in and doctors from the big city nearby came to volunteer their time and expertise. Colonel Lanson made Dad stay back in the gym after the first trip. The Red Cross workers had to change Dad’s wet clothes because he fell asleep as soon as he sat on his cot.

The rescue crew worked through the night and, because of Dad’s help and his insisting on immediately evacuating the injured, 75 people were saved in the colonel’s estimate. People were still being pulled out as more and more reinforcements arrived. The news-people were there for the destruction, but when they heard about Dad’s heroics, they wanted to talk to him. He was asleep though, and they were becoming impatient. The Red Cross worker said he might sleep for days.

Dad didn’t sleep for days. He woke up the next day at about 9:00 A.M. Roland and I had slept for most of that time as well. We both ran a fever for a while and our bodies ached, our heads hurt. We got word that Mom and Emily had come back from California as soon as they had heard the town was hit. Nobody was allowed into the disaster area, so they had gotten a hotel room in the big city for us. When the hotel learned who was renting the room, they gave us the room, free of charge for 2 weeks. Unfortunately, they also alerted the news media. They thought it would be good publicity.

The press arrived pretty much en masse, and they infested the place, inhabiting every room on our floor, every table in the restaurant, and every couch in the foyer. They all wanted interviews with Dad and Mom, and to a lesser extent, Roland, Me, and Emily. The problem was, Dad didn’t want to talk to anyone. He was drained, both physically and emotionally. He’d been through terrible trauma, but now he was dealing with the reality that we were homeless and possessionless. He began to plan our escape.

It really got on his nerves that he had just finished running for his life, all the while seeking shelter for not only himself, but also his for family and a couple strangers. Now he had to keep running to avoid a major annoyance, rather than a life threatening menace. If he so much as stuck his head out the door of the hotel room, the press would be upon him like kids on an ice cream truck. First, he called his friend, Mr. Vega, who lived about 50 miles away.

Mr. Vega would drive his car to the hotel and park in the underground garage. Since there were no parking spaces available (because of the press), Dad had to get some inside allies. These came in the shape of the room service people. From the beginning, Mom had been friendly with all the hotel staff. She’d treated them with respect and they were eager to help. When Mr. Vega showed up, a worker, who was going off work, left just as Mr. Vega came in.

We let Mr. Vega in as quickly as possible. He said that he thought few, if any people had gotten a good look at him. It didn’t matter really because he was wearing a dress and make-up. He looked ugly, but just ugly enough not to be noticed. He carried a large, equally ugly purse that contained an array of make-up and other equipment needed for that part of the plan, including a dress identical to the one Mr. Vega was wearing.

Dad made himself up to look exactly like Mr. Vega. He then walked out the same way Mr. Vega had walked in. Dad was accosted by 6 or 7 reporters as he walked out. He’d had the kitchen people make Chicken Parmigiana with tons of garlic. He also sprayed on a whole lot of cheap perfume. The effect was that he was surrounded by a cloud of the most awful stench. He waved them off, and in a falsetto voice, heavily fragrancing those closest to him, told them he had no comment. The reporters fell back, glad to escape the noxious fumes that encircled the truly unattractive woman.

Dad then drove a circuitous route to Mr. Vega’s house. There Mrs. Vega took the other family car, which was a large SUV. She drove to the hotel and parked the same way Mr. Vega had. She went into the hotel and sat down in the lounge to wait. Soon the cleaning crew showed up to our room. They came in as usual and closed the door. They always had a great big bin they wheeled in that they put the soiled linens in. Roland, Emily and I climbed in underneath all those sheets and moist towels. Mom traded clothes with the cleaning lady. She used some make-up to darken her skin. The night before she had died her hair jet-black.

Mom wheeled us out of the room and down to the service elevator without incident. She pushed the cart through basement hallways, past boilers, kitchens, laundry rooms, and storage closets. She went out an exit that led directly to the underground parking. She left the cart near the exit door and walked out to the SUV, trying to look as much like a weary worker as possible. She got into the truck, made sure the doors were unlocked, and drove back to the exit door. We had gotten out of the cart after counting to 30. As soon as the SUV came by the door, we jumped in and crawled under the various clothes and blankets that were strewn about the floor.

In her car 4 spaces away, the female reporter from the gymnasium did not see the kids jump into the truck, but some alarm sounded in the back of her consciousness. Something was up, but what? Margret Cahooy was nosy by nature. She was exquisitely self-centered as well. She followed the SUV.

Meanwhile, back in the hotel room, Mr. Vega called Mrs. Vega on her cell phone. Mrs. Vega walked to the elevator and went up to the room. She had made sure she’d had plenty of drinks while she was in the lounge. She swayed slightly as she walked. As she got out of the elevator, she bumped the wall and bounced softly into a reporter that was also riding the lift. She gushed an intoxicated apology, too loud, drawing the attention of everyone in the hallway.

Mrs. Vega lurched to the door of the room formerly occupied by our family. Reporters went scurrying to their rooms for cameras, microphones, and note pads. Mrs. Vega knocked on the door and called drunkenly out to Mr. Vega. This sounded quiet alarms in a couple reporters, but they all dismissed her as having the wrong room. Our family could not possibly have left.

Mr. Vega opened the door and boisterously began admonishing Mrs. Vega for being late. He mentioned nothing about her being drunk. He grabbed the remainder of our belongings and together, they walked into the hall and closed the door. The reporters watched dumbfounded as the couple stomped down the hall, arguing loudly. Gradually, the realization that they’d been seriously hoodwinked dawned on the reporters. A wave of fury spread down the hall and horrible cursing was heard as the elevator doors closed.

Margret Cahooy followed the SUV out of the parking garage. She stayed a bit behind, always keeping a few cars between the truck and her. Through many turns and a stop at the gas station, they wound through the city, onto the highway, and over to the next town. The SUV stopped outside a nice, single story house near the outskirts of the town. Margret felt a rush of elation as the children materialized from the floor of the truck, got out, and hurried to the house. Now Margret had to plan a strategy. She had to talk to Dad. She had to make sure he was at this house before she made herself known or he might run again. She also had to get the interview before the great, unwashed masses of reporters found out where they were. She decided to wait for confirmation that he was here; then she’d go in for the story.

Mom followed us into the house and quickly closed the door.

“We were followed,” she announced to Dad.

“Who?”

“That horrible woman from the gym,” I piped up.

“How do you know?” Mom asked dubiously.

“I peeked a few times.”

“Amazing,” Dad said. “Good work! Let’s go! Did you get the gas?”

“Yes”

“I have the extra can and the water. Let’s go!”

Back out we went, jumping into the SUV. Dad threw in 2 cases of bottled water and a 5-gallon gas can. It would stink, but we’d keep the windows opened. We were gone within 3 minutes.

The exodus of the family struck Margret with the sickening force of a sucker-punch to the gut. She had sat in bewildered horror as Dad loaded the gas and water. What was that stuff for? They were pulling away before she snapped out of her shock. She fumbled with the ignition and lurched out to follow. The family headed out of town. It took about 35 minutes for Margret to realize she’d been thoroughly outmaneuvered. They were heading out into the desert. They had gas and water. She was running on ½ a tank.

We drove out into the desert. That lady kept following us. She didn’t even try to hide it. I wondered what her thinking was. I knew she’d seen us fill the gas tank as well as load the gas can. She didn’t have a full tank of gas. Her car was smaller, so it would get better gas mileage than our beast. We had to make sure we lost her though. Dad made a hard left turn onto an obscure road that led off into the desert through a dry lakebed.

We drove down that road until she ran out of gas. Dad made a u-turn. He slowed when he came up to her. She’d managed to pull her car over to the side so she wasn’t completely in the road. She got out as Dad did. She even tried to start the interview as he walked to the back of the SUV.

How did you feel when you saw all those dead people? Did you have to help any neighbors that you hate? Do you regret saving those Chinese that lived down the street from you? Did you have a dog? Is he dead? ”

Dad got 1 of the cases of bottled water and dropped it unceremoniously on the hood of her car. “I’ll call for help when I get into cell phone range.”

He took the gas can out of the back and dumped into the tank of the SUV. All the while, that stupid woman kept asking her insipid interview questions. When Dad continued to ignore her, she went to her car and got out her camera.

If you take a picture of me I’ll smash your camera to bits and melt your memory card. Put it back in the car. If I see you take it out again, I’ll come back and do as I say. Am I clear?”

She just looked at him wonderingly.

“Am I clear?!” Much louder, very harsh.

“Y-y-yes.”

She could tell he meant it. She put the camera in the car and Dad drove us away. The truck’s thermometer read the outside temperature at 102˚ F. It was not yet noon.

Mr. Vega flew out to California to pick up the SUV. Dad said he’d repay him when he was well back on his feet. Mr. Vega said to forget it, that it was a pleasure and a great adventure. He even brought us a picture of Margret Cahooy straggling back into town, cowed and defeated, red as a tomato.

























 

All material Copyright 2007  By Steve Hooper