A Hurricane in Your Suitcaseby Brian Bakos / Humor
A HURRICANE IN YOUR SUITCASE
by Brian Bakos
cover art: Othoniel Ortiz
Copyright 2014 Brian Bakos / revised 09 - 2016
Table of Contents
One: The Ice Cream Thief
Two: The Quest Begins
Three: Things Get Serious
Four: Final Test
Brian’s Other Books
One: The Ice Cream Thief
Chapter 1: Ice Cream Attack
I can scarcely believe my eyes! Outside the window is all summery bright and hot, with a clear sky – in the middle of April!
The week of rain is finally over. The gloomy blahs I’ve been suffering from vanish into thin air like a puff of smoke from my Grandpa’s pipe.
I strum my guitar joyfully, hitting some new chords. Then I set it aside, too excited to keep playing.
This is a day for celebration. This is a day for ice cream, and I need some right now. I dash from the picture window straight into the kitchen, almost knocking over the TV table.
No TV this Saturday morning. I’m going outside with my ice cream!
Joe is sitting at the table eating a chocolate covered ice cream bar. He’s dressed in his bike outfit with the shorts and colorful shirt. He is even wearing his padded gloves with the cut-off finger tips. The “future Tour de France winner,” as he calls himself.
“This is delicious,” he says. “You ought to try one, Brett.”
“That’s just what I’ve got in mind,” I say.
I reach into the freezer and pull out an empty ice cream box.
“What?” I gasp.
I drag over a chair, stand on it, and stick myself half way in the freezer. Fish sticks and frozen hamburgers tumble away in my desperate search.
“If you stay in there much longer, you’ll turn into an ice cream bar yourself,” Joe says.
I pull my chilled arms out of the freezer and hold up the empty box.
“Very funny,” I say, “there were supposed to be two left.”
“Yeah,” Joe says, “the other one was delicious, too.”
“That’s not fair!”
Joe shrugs. “You have to act fast around here, Brett. You know that.”
It does me no good to argue. Joe is the big junior high kid who can do whatever he wants and I’m just the little grade school twerp.
Well, Mom will hear about this! She’s in the basement washing clothes, and I charge down the steps to find her. She meets me at the bottom.
“What’s wrong, Brett?”
She has this scared look in her eyes, like she had last summer when that hornet stung me on the neck.
“Joe ate all the ice cream!”
“Oh,” Mom says.
The worried expression leaves her face, and the tired, impatient one takes over. She goes back to the washing machine.
“That’s too bad,” she says.
She pours detergent over the laundry. Bong! goes the lid, and water starts sloshing around.
Too bad? This is downright horrible, but Mom is acting like she doesn’t care. Worse yet, she looks as if she doesn’t even believe me. Maybe she thinks I’m making up another story.
Well, maybe I do make up stories sometimes – like last week when I said the dog ate my grade report. Thing was, I’d rehearsed the story so much that I actually believed it myself. I was as surprised as anybody when Joe found the report hidden in my backpack.
Actually, my grades were all right, but they weren’t straight A’s like I’d said they were. Joe is an honor student, and I just wanted to prove that I was smart, too.
Then I had to figure out some way to keep the real grades secret. I mean, the dog’s so friendly – who’d get mad at him?
“Can’t we buy more ice cream, Mom?” I beg.
“I’ll get some Wednesday when I go shopping.” Her tone says loud and clear that the discussion is over.
Wednesday! That might as well be the next century. The time between me and Wednesday sprawls endlessly ahead like the Sahara Desert.
There’s always the Speedy Mart, but I know Mom won’t let me go by myself. It’s a mile away, across a busy street. Joe wouldn’t want to go with me, either. He’s already had plenty of ice cream – my ice cream.
I drag myself back to the picture window. Outside the glass everything is cheery and bright, but on my side things are grim.
Usually, April is a cool, wet time when you think school will drag on forever. You just sit at your desk watching the rain dribble. But now a broiling Saturday has arrived. Tree leaves are getting bigger, and flowers I’d forgotten about are popping up again.
There has to be a way to get ice cream!
The man across the way starts washing his car. He seems to wash his car every day during the summer, like it’s a hobby or something. He needs a better hobby, in my opinion.
Then a familiar tune drifts in from the street, and my whole world changes. I twist my ears its direction.
The ‘Happy Al’ ice cream truck, blaring The Arkansas Traveler through its loudspeaker, stops a few doors down. Kids are running toward it from all directions. A miracle!
I wasn’t expecting the ice cream truck until summer, but here it is like some fabulous butterfly coming out of a snowstorm. I dash to my room and scrounge up all the money from my desk drawer – just enough.
2. The Great Giveaway
I run outside, practically tripping on the front steps. Every kid in the neighborhood has beat me to the truck. Melissa is first in line, of course. And she doesn’t even live around here; she must be visiting friends.
She studies the pictures on the side of the truck.
“I’d like ... a chocolate crunch,” she says.
Happy Al pokes around in the freezer. The chocolate crunches must be on the very bottom.
“No, wait,” Melissa says. “I want a Zombie Pop instead.”
“Come on, Melissa!” somebody says, but she ignores him.
She can hit hard if you get her mad, so nobody complains any more.
This is terrible! If everybody takes this long, I’ll be here all day. Worse than that, the best stuff might be gone by the time my turn comes. Who knows how many streets the truck has already been down? And if every block has such a crowd, then the situation is pretty hopeless.
I groan. I can almost taste the sweet ice cream, and the imaginary flavors are driving me nuts.
All the while, The Arkansas Traveler blares through the truck’s loudspeaker:
Daa daa! da da da da da! da da da da da da da ...
Doesn’t Happy Al get tired of hearing it all the time? I mean, I’m bored with it already. After a whole day of listening, I don’t think I’d be very happy. I’d probably be psychotic.
I look down the long the row of customers. Everyone, except for Ken, is here standing between me and the glorious ice cream supply.
So, where is Ken, anyhow?
With nothing else to do, I start dreaming up a story to explain his absence ...
Then I have it! The ultimate story that will solve all my problems – if I tell it right, that is. I nudge the boy ahead of me.
“Hey, Tommy,” I semi-whisper. “You know that big freezer in Ken’s basement?”
“Yeah, what about it?” Tommy says.
“It broke down, and the repair guy won’t come until next week,” I say. “So, they have to get rid of everything before it melts.”
“And?” Tommy says.
He leans in close. I raise my voice a little.
“Don’t tell anyone else, okay?”
I glance around. Everyone’s ears are turned toward me, although their eyes might be looking somewhere else.
“They’ve got all kinds of stuff,” I say, “ice cream bars, frozen pops, chocolate crunches, everything. They’re giving it away, free – as much as you want.”
Tommy grins. “Thanks, Brett.”
He slips out of line, real casual like so that people won’t notice, and walks quickly off toward Ken’s house. A couple of others drift away, then a stampede begins. Even Melissa dashes off.
I stroll up to the truck and study the pictures on its side. So many things to choose from, and only enough money for one ... I wonder if Ken has such a big selection in his freezer.
Happy Al is groping around in his own freezer. An icy mist rises up and surrounds his face like he’s a demon, or something. He returns to the window holding Melissa’s latest order.
He looks around, all surprised, then he frowns at me.
“Guess they all got tired of waiting,” I say.
“Well, you’re the only one left,” he says, “so what do you want?”
The yellow smiley face on Happy Al’s shirt pocket does not match the look on his real face. I open my hand and count my money. It sits there very lonely. These coins would buy the only ice cream that stands between me and Wednesday.
Wait a minute! I think, why should I buy anything from this crabby old guy when my friends are getting all the ice cream they want, free?
I shake my head.
“No thanks, Mr. Happy,” I say, “not today.”
I run off at maximum speed. My shoe lace comes untied, but I don’t bother to stop. Man, if I don’t get to Ken’s house quick, nothing will be left!
As I dash up Ken’s driveway, I meet the other kids coming back down. They don’t seem very glad to see me.
Why is everybody so upset?
Ken’s mom stands at the side door, arms crossed. Her mouth is all scrunched, as if she’s just bit into a garlic sandwich.
“I suppose you’ve come for the free ice cream, too,” she says.
“Well ... yeah. I heard something about it,” I say. “Thought I’d check things out.”
“There’s no free ice cream,” Melissa says. “It’s all a lie!”
She curls her hand into a fist and moves toward me. The others follow.
“Really?” I start backing away. “Who ever said there was free stuff?”
“We all know who the big liar is!” Tommy says.
“Yeah, it’s Brett the Ice Cream Thief!” somebody else cries.
I am almost surrounded now.
“W-well,” I say. “It’s been nice talking to you, but I really have to go.”
I whirl around and bolt for home. An angry crowd chases after me. The ice cream truck passes us going the other direction. It isn’t playing music any more.
My house seems impossibly far, like it’s actually moving away from me. If I can just get there safe, if I don’t trip on my flopping shoelace – I’ll never make up another dumb story!
They are almost on me . . .
3. Narrow Escape
“Hey, what’s going on?” A voice calls from the street.
It’s Joe! He turns onto the sidewalk and stops his bike between me and the mob. They all stop running, nearly falling over each other.
“He stole our ice cream!” Melissa yells.
“Really?” Joe says. “He doesn’t seem to have anything with him.”
“He didn’t actually steal it,” Tommy says. “He told us there was free stuff at Ken’s, so we left the ice cream truck to go get some.”
“Yeah, and now the ice cream truck’s gone,” Melissa says.
“He told you that,” Joe says, “and you believed him? That wasn’t very smart.”
The kids are still furious, but Joe is on my side. Even Melissa wouldn’t be so foolish as to attack.
“Why don’t you all go home,” Joe says, “and try not to be so greedy.”
They all leave, grumbling. Melissa shoots me a final, murderous glance that promises future violence.
“Thanks, Joe,” I say. “You saved my life.”
He shrugs. “I was only thinking of Mom. She’d be upset if you got killed.”
So, why am I feeling grateful, anyway? If Joe hadn’t hogged all the ice cream, I wouldn’t be in this jam. You could say that he owed me one.
“You’re off the hook for now,” Joe says, “but you’ll have to make it up with them. Try to be honest for a change.”
I kneel down to tie my shoelace.
Joe grins. “Free ice cream, eh? How’d you dream that one up?”
“Yeah, well, maybe it was kind of dumb,” I say.
That is quite an understatement. Even so, I’d felt important telling the story. Brett, the smallest and youngest kid in the neighborhood, had said something and everybody listened.
“That’s almost as bad as the ‘dog ate my grade report’ routine,” Joe says.
“Oh?” I say. “It would have worked if you hadn’t gone prowling around in my back pack.”
Joe waves one fingerless gloved hand.
“I was just trying to help.”
He smiles his maddening, know-it-all, big brother smile. Easy for him. He lives in a whole different world from me where he doesn’t have to make things up to get noticed. He’s the big honor roll baseball player, bike racer, whatever.
Now that the danger is past, my craving for ice cream returns.
“Can you take me to the Speedy Mart?” I say.
Joe thinks about this for a while, as if he’s President Eisenhower turning over some gigantic world problem in his mind.
He’s wearing this little bike cap reversed on his head. He takes it off and runs his fingers through his hair. Then he puts the cap back on, facing the right way, and pushes up the brim.
“Okay,” he says at last. “I was kind of heading that direction anyhow.”
4. Ice Cream at Last
I dash home and get my bike – the old one that Joe used to ride. He had it when it was brand new and cool, now it’s all dinged up. Worst of all, it has these flames painted on it. Flames were in style once, now they just look dumb.
We ride through the hot day toward the Speedy Mart. I keep to the sidewalk, dodging the toys and junk the little kids have scattered around. Joe rides in the street, peddling his fancy bike with all the gears, the curled under handlebars, and the skinny tires.
The whole machine is skinny and fast looking – the yellow frame is made of some ‘ultra-lightweight’ metal. He got the bike as a combination Christmas / honor roll gift. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. I did get the guitar I’d been wanting for Christmas and some music lessons to go with it.
Still . . .
“What is the Tour de France, anyway?” I call over.
“You’ve never heard of it?” Joe says, like he’s amazed at how dense I am. “It’s only the greatest bike race in the world. It’s been held since 1903.”
“If it’s so great, why don’t they hold it in America?” I shoot back.
“You really ought to get up to date about sports,” Joe says. “This is the 1950’s, after all.”
“I know what decade it is,” I say. “I’m not stupid.”
At the last second, I notice a little toy car on the sidewalk, right in front of me. I swerve to avoid it, nearly losing my balance.
“Watch where you’re going, Brett,” Joe says.
“Thanks for telling me that,” I say
Some boys are playing catch in the street. Joe swerves effortlessly around them.
“Hey, cool bike Joe!” One of them yells.
“Thanks,” Joe replies.
Once he’s clear of his latest admirers, he starts talking to me again.
“All the big bike races are in Europe now,” he says. “That’ll change once I get involved.”
“What about your pro baseball career?” I say. “I thought you were going to be the ‘new Mickey Mantle.’”
“Well, yeah ... that too,” Joe says.
Some junior high girls giggle and wave to Joe. He waves back, as if he’s some big movie star. A little farther on, he stops and talks to some other girls while I stand in the background with my tacky old bike.
Man! I thought we’d never get to the Speedy Mart.
But we finally do. I buy a giant triple-flavored ice cream sandwich and devour it out on the sidewalk. Chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla tastes explode in my mouth like a great fireworks blast.
Finally, my ice cream attack is over, and the world looks better. I feel totally myself again.
I remember one time we went to see Grandma at the hospital. Some other visitors were leaving the building as we were going in. The instant they got outside, they lit cigarettes. They looked happy and relieved, like they’d just escaped from jail.
“Look at that,” Mom said. “They must be in a hurry to get back inside – as patients.”
“Right,” Joe said, “who needs lungs, anyway? Breathing is such a bore.”
Now I can kind of understand how those people felt, although eating ice cream surely isn’t as dumb as smoking – unless you ate a ton of it, maybe. I ball up the wrapper and toss it at the trash barrel. An easy shot, but it bounces off the edge. I pick up the wad of paper and drop it in the barrel.
Joe stands leaning against his bike with a frozen pop. He’s eating it just slightly faster than it would have melted on its own. He keeps looking about the street, as if he hopes more girls will show up to admire his bike outfit.
But nobody is around besides us. Maybe the ‘future Tour de France winner’ act is getting old already. Over the winter, Joe was the hockey star, and before that the baseball hero. He has more sports outfits than I can count. I’ll probably inherit them, whether I’m any good at the games or not.
The only game he won’t play is football, even though the junior high coach asked him to try out for the team.
“A little too rough for my taste,” Joe explained at the time. “I don’t want to rattle my first-class brain.”
As we hang around on the sidewalk, time seems to stand still in the warm air. I don’t know how it works, exactly, but I have this weird feeling that I’m sort of suspended between two realities – the old familiar one and a new, scarier one.
Then Joe gets this serious look on his face, like he’s getting ready to pass on some great wisdom. He gives his popsicle a chomp and chews it decisively.
I’m in for it now, I think.
5. The Big Lecture
“You need to be more careful, Brett,” Joe finally says. “Those lies you’re telling are getting you into serious trouble.”
“Yeah, I know,” I say, “but sometimes I just can’t help it.”
“Why’s that?” Joe asks.
“People don’t notice me unless I’m talking big,” I say. “I can’t get anything done by telling the truth.”
Joe finishes eating the popsicle. He tosses the empty stick an impossible distance towards the trash bin. I think sure it will land on the sidewalk, but it flies through the air, turning end over end, and lands neatly in the trash.
Why can’t I beat Joe at anything?
“I guess I’m just afraid of being ignored,” I say.
“Getting beat up is a lousy way to attract attention,” Joe says. “Besides, you might get so afraid of being ignored that you develop obsessive ideas.”
Obsessive ideas? Joe sure likes to try to impress me with big words.
“What’s an ‘obsessive idea?’” I say. “Is that like when you have a bag of Halloween candy stashed away in the closet and it’s all you can think about, especially at dinner time?”
Joe looks surprised.
“Yeah, something like that,” he says. “An idea gets deep into your mind and takes over. Then you start believing all sorts of fantastic things. Pretty soon you’re off in your own twisted little world.”
“Well ... you could get to thinking that you’re not worth much,” Joe says. “So you start building this fake personality based on lies. Before you know it, you’re this fake person that nobody likes or respects.”
“Like that guy we bought our car from?” I say. “He looked pretty phony.”
“Yeah,” Joe says, “something like that. You need to build up your self confidence, Brett.”
“Thanks for the free advice, Joe,” I say. “I’m sure it’s worth every cent.”
He laughs. “Any time, bro!”
Two: The Quest Begins
6. Amazing Tales
I’m glad that at least one of us is having a good time.
Across the street, in front of an appliance store, somebody is having a lot less fun. He is wearing this stupid cardboard crown and waving a sign:
Come on in for KING SIZED savings!
The poor guy must be really embarrassed – I know I would be. He looks young, like some high school kid stuck in the world’s most terrible weekend job. Behind him, scowling out through the big display window, stands the boss of the store.
The boss is kind of mean looking – bald and skinny. He looks like he just bit into a lemon sandwich. Behind him lurks stoves and refrigerators, like prehistoric monsters waiting to devour anybody who walks into the store.
But then the situation changes drastically. A huge truck comes rumbling by. It’s so heavy that we feel the ground tremble under out feet. It’s like this earthquake on wheels. The truck is carrying a folded-up carnival ride, of all things.
Maybe some church is having a fair this weekend, or maybe they just need to move the ride someplace to store it until the summer. Whatever.
Anyway, a gust of wind whirls down the street after the truck. It’s filled with dirt and old leaves – a sort of mini tornado. It blows the crown right off the guy’s head. When he chases after it, the wind grabs the sign and carries it off, too.
I thought Joe would find this hilarious, but he just watches the scene real thoughtful and quiet, studying all the details and filing them away in his first-class brain. He doesn’t even chuckle when the boss runs out of the store and chases after the guy who is chasing after the sign and cardboard crown.
“Get back here!” the boss yells. “I’m not paying you to run down the street!”
I kind of feel sorry for the poor worker, I know what it’s like to have people chasing you. Besides, how much is the boss paying anyway? He looks like a cheapskate type person, all skinny and crabby. Then Joe says something so unexpected that I scarcely know how to reply.
“You know, Brett,” he says, “your problem is as bad as being afraid of hurricanes.”
I turn away from the disaster going on across the street and gape at Joe for a while.
“Come on, Joe,” I finally say. “What could ‘my problem’ possibly have to do with hurricanes?”
Joe puts on his superior face.
“I thought that would be obvious,” he says, “but I guess you’ll need to have it explained.”
Oh please, I think, not again!
I just know he’s getting ready to tell another of his amazing tales. Joe thinks of himself as this great writer (the ‘new Hemingway’) and he’s always trying out his latest ideas on me.
Okay, some of them aren’t too bad, but I’m in no mood to be entertained. And if he tries to con me into doing something I don’t want to – well, he can just forget about that.
Joe smiles. “It’s sort of complicated, Brett, maybe you won’t be able to follow along.”
“I can follow it!”
I know he’s trying to get me mad so that I’ll insist on hearing the full story, but I’m not going to play that game. I just wait patiently.
“All right, Brett,” Joe says, “but listen carefully because I won’t repeat anything.”
He takes a drink from his water bottle and checks his watch. Then he adjusts his sunglasses to make sure they still look cool. Then he starts talking . . .
7. The Greedy King
“It all began with a king who was afraid of losing his fortune,” Joe says.
Wait a minute, something is wrong here I suddenly realize. Joe is getting ready to tell one of his fantastic stories. Didn’t I just get into trouble twice for doing the same thing?
But I don’t have time to think this through. Joe is rattling on and, despite myself, I begin to listen.
“King Crabbeus had plenty of gold,” Joe says, “but he was terrified of losing it all. He was so worried that he could barely sleep, and when he did sleep, he had nightmares about people stealing his money.”
“It wouldn’t bother me,” I say. “I’d spend everything so fast there wouldn’t be enough time to get worried.”
Yeah, like maybe I’d buy myself a new bike – one without flames.
Joe gives me a sharp look.
“Do you want to hear the story or not, Brett?”
“Sure,” I say, “go ahead, shoot.”
The Tale of the Greedy King continues: