Alvy jerks the wheel hard to the left and hangs on tight to her hat. The needle-thin boat throws a high wall of spray as it bounces across its own wake and shot underneath a parked car. She blinks painfully in the sudden deep shadow, ducks to avoid the car’s dangling heat-shield, and pushes the throttle forward to close the gap with her brother’s speeding sprayer truck. She can hear Alby shouting above the roar of the engines and the hiss of the water hitting the road.
“Next time, I get to drive the boat!”
“Next time, think up your own boat!”
“Next time, build it yourself!”
“It’s just like Alby to complain and forget to enjoy the ride,” Alvy thinks. “It isn’t as if he is sitting at home having no fun. Driving the truck is fun. The truck goes fast. It has to, to stay in front. There, see? It is fun. He gets to drive in front; not hang around back here getting splashed.”
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,” Alvy says.
“Not really,” Alby says, turning the sprayer back on hard and drenching his sister, then gunning the truck’s engine and peeling 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 giant 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 bear-hug it from above, but when he tries to straighten his legs the battery 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 it comes, barely missing her toes. Alby is shaking his head, trying to clear the boat exhaust from his eyes.
“Could you shut that thing off?” he asks.
“You first,” she says, just to be spiteful.
Alby stomps over and shuts off the truck. Alvy waits for the sound to die and then shuts off the boat.
They try again. 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.
“Right,” Alvy says, “It's always worked like that, so why change now? That’s always your attitude, isn’t it?” Even so, she helps him pick the battery up and they start sidestepping gingerly toward the boat.
“Oh, okay,” 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 just 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 again. “Something's wrong!”
Alvy takes a quick look at the dry 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 on the far side, skates back up 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, his 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.
Alby just works his jaw.
“How far is it?” she asks.
“Another block,” he answers. “Maybe we should just leave the vehicles here and come back for them after. Nobody's going to find them here 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 grass around them.
Alvy nods. Together, they make their way over to the boat, lift out heavy backpacks, and begin laboriously bushwhacking through the thigh-high grass.
After what feels like an endless hike, they finally reach their destination. They stare up at the screen door towering above them, panting and catching their breath.
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 when she sees the eyes, two sets, green and glowing, moving forward.
She grabs the rope with both hands and throws her legs over the edge, kicking Alby in the side of his duct-taped head. “Hey,” he grunts.
“Cats!” she whispers, climbing right over his back in her haste.
Alby lets go and thunks to the floor. The cats are making themselves thin and squeezing through the cracked window. Alby’s boots reach the floor and both 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 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. 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 wide, 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. She’s holding a rope in her teeth, and the other end of the rope trails off and down and is 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 where the milk bottle lives. 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 though. It is somewhat 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. A rank of hulking cereal boxes looms above her. This poses another chimneying problem, albeit a wobbly one. When she reaches the top, she steps cautiously from one to the other until she reaches the raisin bran. The box under her feet gives way, and she’s dumped painfully back to the shelf. Nothing to do but to climb up again. There: the raisin bran. She gets the box-top open and heaves open the plastic liner. Then she kneels and shakes the entire remaining contents of her pack into the liner. She kicks the liner crinkling down into the box and presses the box-top closed. Then, her pack empty and her movements light, she performs her climb in reverse, reaches the counter and jogs toward Alby’s corner.
While Alvy’s attentions were on the cereal, Alby has made his way up to the counter and he’s waiting for her on the sugar canister. He reaches an arm down for her and helps pull her up. Then they work together to shove the lid of the flour canister so it’s part-way 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 salutes jauntily, and jumps gracefully down into the flour, throwing up only a tiny puff.
The surface of the flour roils for a few moments. Then Alvy’s masked head breaks the surface, her palms sculling steadily. Alby reaches down and pulls her out. She dusts herself off and hands her brother the spool, whose free end trails down into the flour and out of sight.
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 row of leaning tiles, around the garden gnome. When they reach the sink, Alby stretches out his arms and ties the string in a knot around the faucet handle. Then take a careful survey of the room to see whether they've forgotten anything, then take their (much lighter now) backpacks slip back out the open window. As they’re leaving the porch, the screen door squeaks open then hisses shut, and closes with a soft bang.