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Near-dead experience

The next morning we woke up early like we always do. But this time was different, because we were sleeping in a car-house and had nowhere to be. Having nowhere to be didn’t keep Mom from bustling restlessly around the car-house like she had to be there on time.

It was a chilly morning, so Mom went to the cockpit to turn on the heater.

She turned the key, but instead of making car-noises, the car-house just said, tsk-tsk-tsk and went silent again.

Mom said all the bad words in every language in the universe, then she conjugated them. She peered at the lights and dials behind the driving wheel.

“Is the heater broken?” I asked.

“The van won’t start,” Mom told the driving wheel.

“What does that mean?”

“It means that we’re marooned.”

“Like pirates?” This adventure was turning out to be everything I hoped for after all.

Mom can’t stand to see me get excited without telling me I’m wrong. “Like castaways,” she corrected. She thumped the driving wheel a few times to show the car-house that she wasn’t going down without a fight.

“That’s okay, I like it here.” I looked out the window and my tail began to twitch. There were trees out there, and I smelled ocean. “Look! You wished that you could live here, and your wish came true on the very first day. Should we go run in our new Hometown?”

“That was your wish, and this isn’t a town it’s a trailer park,” she looked at her phone businessily so no one else would mistake her for someone living in a car-house. “And we can’t run on the highway.”

“Not with that attitude.”

“I don’t even have cell service to call for help!” Mom booped th phone aggressively, but the Witch inside wouldn’t respond. “Let’s see if we can find a better signal.”

We dismounted the car-house and crept through our new neighborhood in the pre-dawn light. Full-grown truck-houses slumbered in cubbies between the trees, peacefully snoring an electrical hum.

“I betcha there are people inside these truck-houses,” I pranced. “We’re saved! You can’t be a castaway if you have neighbors.”

“Won’t be up for hours,” Mom grumbled. “Lazy do-nothings.”

As we got closer to the highway, I spotted a traditional building of the sort that stays in place its whole life.

“A real house!” I cheered. “Why don’t we move in here?”

“It’s just a little store that sells overpriced bug spray and Doritos,” Mom said, but she climbed onto the porch to peek through the windows anyway.

While Mom was reading the signs on the door, I looked through the window at a box glowing through the dimness inside. Below the soda cans and milk jugs, I recognized something that reminded me of happy times.

“Are those Lunchables?” I drooled.

“They don’t open until 10 o’clock!” Mom said, like she’d never heard of such shocking behavior. “The day is ruined!”

“We’ll turn it into a fun adventure,” I suggested.

“Rue-winned!” Mom howled, not-quite falling to her knees and shaking her fists at the sky.

Mom looked around for someone to complain at, but no one was available. Her eyes settled on the beach across the street.

“C’mon. You might as well run around for a little while.”

The little cove wasn’t a bad place to be shipwrecked. There was no cliff between road and beach, but the closer we got to the water, the taller the cliffs grew on each side like a protective hug. The cliffs shielded the beach from view so passing ship would never see you burying your treasure in the sand.

Mom let go of the leash and I wasted no time digging for buried treasure here, there, and everywhere. Meanwhile, Mom wandered the beach looking for cell phone bars.

Mom climbed the tallest rocks below the cliff and held the Witch (📱) toward the sky like an offering.

“Anything?” I asked from the sand below.


Mom stood in the center of the beach, as far from the stifling cliffs as possible, and held the Witch at the end of a long arm. She turned in a slow circle.

“Anything?” I asked after the first rotation.

“Bupkis,” she told me after the second.

“Will this work?” I asked around the salty stick crowding my mouth. “Sticks are kind of like bars, right.”

“Phoey!” Mom took the stick from me and flung it as far as she could. It landed a short distance away.

“I’ll get it!” I barked.

We yo-ho-hoed around the beach for a while, but there’s only so much to sniff when everything smells like seaweed.

We walked back to the porch, where Mom sat in a special kind of chair made for impatience. She rocked back and forth as the horns on the chair’s legs chopped toward me every time I tried to get closer.

Finally, a Mmmmmmmnnnnnnnnn sound came from around the car-house block. A big man in the littlest pickup truck you ever did see came buzzing around the corner.

I jumped to my feet. “Mom! Look! It’s Mario Kart!”

I didn’t realize that Mom was already ahead of me until the leash yanked me down the porch steps. I chased Mom, who chased Super Mario with arms waving above her head.

“Excuse me! Excuse me!” she shouted, more with her arms than with her voice, because it was still early.

Mario slowed down to let Mom catch up.

“Do you work here?” Mom asked breathily. “My van’s dead and I don’t have cell service. What do you think I should do?”

“What happens when you turn the key?” he asked.

“It doesn’t start.”

“Yeah, but does it make any noise?”

“No! It just goes click-click-click. No vroom at all.” She didn’t quite keep the annoyance out of her voice. Mom hates when she has to repeat herself.

“So it clicks. Are there lights on the dashboard?”

“No! That’s what I’m saying. They just sort of flash for a second and then they go dark.”

“Don’t you know what a dead battery looks like?” he asked in a voice that suggested that even girls should know these things.

Mom didn’t say anything, but her face said something between of course I do and how could you expect me to know something so obscure?

“Hang on, I’ve got jumper cables in my truck,” Mario told her reassuringly. “What spot are you in?”

Mom crumbled a bit. She never remembers where we parked. Now Super Mario would never find us and we’d be marooned until eternity.

“I know!” I butted in. “It’s the only car-house down thatta way with squirrels painted on it.”

“…you can’t miss it,” Mom finished.

“Tally-ho, Mario! Go get’em,” I encouraged.

“I’ll be right there,” Mario called as his Kart made a circle around us. Then he drove away in the wrong direction.

We walked back to the car-house to wait for help to arrive. Super Mario must have found a mushroom for his truck, because when he reappeared a few minutes later, his tiny truck was supersized. He climbed out holding a pair of snakes with mouths full of sharp teeth on each end.

The car-house unhitched its jaw, and he reached inside with a dragonoodle in each hand. The monsters sunk their teeth into the car-house’s tongue.

When he’d done the same to his own poor truck, he gave Mom a signal. She climbed into the driving chair and twisted the key. The car-house click-clicked.

Then it vroomed.

Mom bounced out of the driving chair with arms waving above her head again, this time in celebration. “Thank you! Thank you!” For a moment I thought her arms were going to fall on Super Mario in a hug, but instead they folded with paws together under her chin as she bobbed a few more thanks.

“Just make sure you drive it around for a while,” Super Mario advised. “On the freeway. You want to go half an hour, at least.”

“You hear that, Mom? This jabroni thinks he can run us out of town,” I growled.

“That won’t be a problem!” Mom burbled like she didn’t mind being exiled one bit. “We’re aiming for Mt. Shasta from here.”

Mom waved cheerfully out the window one last time as we drove back toward the unknown.


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