By Hannah Christensen
Mrs. Atkins shoved the volume at the two fourteen-year-old boys. “You can check the homeowner’s guild manual yourselves. There’s twenty pages in there on the care of front lawns. Fortunately for you, most of it has been taken into account and all you need to do is upkeep.”
Caspar looked up from thumbing through pages. “What do you mean?” he squawked.
“The pair of you are responsible for yardwork this summer. You will keep up with it because any fines I am charged because of you I will carve from your skin.”
“But…but what about Isabella,” Caspar protested. “She should get the back yard, at least.”
“Don’t you worry about Isabella.” Mrs. Atkins turned to go. “But you are the ones in charge of the back yard. And you better not let my white rose bush die.”
The door thumped behind her.
“This is all your fault.” Lou punched his twin in the leg. “If you hadn’t asked for a basketball hoop, she wouldn’t have assigned us all this work.”
“It was your idea.” Caspar began thumbing through the manuel again.
Lou flopped on his back in the shade of the maple. “You were the one who decided to call a hoop a ‘betterment of the lawn’.”
Caspar continued to turn pages. “Ha!” he said. “She’s wrong!”
Lou bolted upright. “They do allow basketball hoops?”
“No, there are twenty-three pages of regulations for front lawns, not just twenty.”
Lou collapsed again with a groan. “This is going to be the most boring summer ever.”
Caspar pushed his blond bangs away from his eyes. “It’s going to be a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be all boring. She never said we couldn’t put one in the back yard.”
“But there isn’t a driveway in the back yard.”
“We can make one.” Caspar started grinning his loop-hole grin. “We can make the whole back yard a driveway if we want to. She said we were in charge of the backyard.”
Lou shook his head. “I was the one who helped Uncle Fred set posts. Pouring that much cement is more work than mowing. I wouldn’t do that much cement for anything less than epic.”
Lou groaned again.
Caspar kept expounding. “The hoops on hilltops, out of bounds marked by gulches, and little ridges winding about where you couldn’t just cross, you have to walk along while dribbling the ball.”
“That’s not basketball,” scoffed Lou. “That sounds like—” He bounced up.
“A skateboard stunt park!” both boys chorused.
“Let’s go price cement at the hardware store,” Lou said, and bolted for his bike.
By the end of the evening, the boys had figured they could afford three bags of cement by the end of the week, and Lou had talked to Uncle Fred’s neighbor about helping tear down a dilapidated barn in exchange for some of the old lumber. They found one shovel and borrowed another from a neighbor across the street. Operations were ready to begin.
Caspar and Lou were the first ones up the next morning. Lou headed straight for the door, but Caspar objected that breakfast first would help them work. He scrambled some eggs with Fruit Loops thrown in while Lou practiced for speed on his X-box controls in front of the still, black screen.
When the eggs were done, Lou ate standing. He shoveled his food in without taking time for comments or sound effects over the cereal. He dumped his bowl in the sink.
“Come on, Caspar. Stop taking so long.”
Caspar had his eyes closed, and was slowly mushing his food around his mouth with his tongue while comparing this latest experiment to others in the past. “More fairy tale than tropical,” he mumbled around the bite.
Lou kicked at the chair legs, trying to get the chair to tip his brother onto the kitchen floor.
“You’re up early. Going somewhere?” Mrs. Atkins stood in the doorway, a robe wrapped around her pajamas and her hair trailing like an overgrown flower bed.
Caspar swallowed his mouthful. “There’s the whole backyard to take care of. We’re getting a good early start.”
“I see. As much as I admire your initiative, the front yard comes first.”
“Front. You can spend as much time in the back as you want after the front is done.”
The boys trudged out to the front.
The twins spent most of the day working in the front yard, if you didn’t count the necessary breaks such as popsicles and Kool-aide and chasing each other around with the hose. By the time their friend Randy left after pausing to visit in the middle of walking his dog, all they had left was the edging.
“It’s almost four,” complained Caspar. “We don’t have time to edge before electronics hour.” Mrs. Atkins had actually tripled the hour for the duration of summer. It was less than the last summer, but then Mr. Atkins was not there to take charge of the electronic’s usage.
Lou began to drag tools into the garage.
“What are you doing?” asked Caspar.
“You said we’re done for the day.”
“Well…we could take turns. I could play while you worked, and then we could switch.”
“Nuh-uh.” Lou headed for the garage. His face and short, blond hair were drenched in sweat and flecked in dirt. “You can do that if you want, but I’m headed in.”
“Fine. Then—double player.”
The next morning the boys were less eager to start, but managed to finish the front before lunch. By the end of the day they had started a sizeable hole in the back yard.
“This is taking forever,” said Caspar. “We should hire dogs to come and dig. They like it.”
“How do you teach dogs to dig on command?” Lou sank his shovel into the soil and heaved it to the side. “Besides, they would probably spend the whole time running around and trying to play catch. You would have to pen them up and leave them to make them want to dig.”
“That’s a good idea.”
“I’m not building the fence.”
Caspar smacked at the pile next to him with the flat of his shovel.
“Tomorrow you can have a break,” Lou pointed out. “I’ll be helping with that barn, and you could earn money for some more cement.”
“How? Set up a lemonaide stand?”
“Nah. Lemonaide is for little kids. People only buy it because they feel sorry for them. You’ll have to think of something people really want.”
Caspar leaned on his shovel handle and watched crumbs of dirt dribble back into the hole. “I could start a tree trimming service. They get paid a lot and I have experience with yard work.”
“Supperti—” Isabella’s call trailed into a shriek. “What are you doing to the yard? Mom is going to kill you!”
“She said we could do whatever we wanted to with the back yard,” said Caspar.
“No, she didn’t.”
“Yes, she did.”
“Not ruin it.”
“It’s not ruined.” Lou looked up with crooked, crazy-eyed grin. “It’s perfect—for trapping little girls!” He threw down his shovel and leapt from the hole.
Isabella screamed. “I’m not a little girl!” She fled inside.
Lou laughed and helped pull Caspar out to wash up for supper.
Mrs. Atkins did not even comment on the hole, even when Isabella complained loudly about it. The most she would say was, “Hmm.” Even so, no more progress was made until Monday when Lou dragged Caspar out to work on it again.
“My back is sore,” said Caspar.
Lou pushed a shovel into his hands.
“Ow! So are my arms. And my legs.” He slid into the hole when Lou threatened to push him. “I think we’re deep enough. We just have to spread out.”
Lou attacked the ground.
After an hour, Caspar threw down his shovel in disgust. “How come you don’t have problems with piles?” His side wandered about in curves, piles of loose dirt leaning over the edges.
“You’re not throwing your dirt far enough,” said Lou. “You’ll have to move it.”
“Shovel it farther away.”
Caspar moaned, but he climbed back up and began reshovelling the dirt.
By lunch time, his sides were up against his piles again. Inside, he put his head down on the table and ignored his ham sandwich. “I don’t think I can move another picometer.”
“You have to, or else all your muscles will freeze up.” Lou opened the refrigerator. “What you need is some energy.” He grabbed the chocolate syrup and squeezed it over his brother’s sandwich.
Isabella wrinkled her nose.
“Ahhh.” Caspar lolled his head so his mouth faced up and lowered in a bite of dripping sandwich. “Classic,” he mumbled. “Like honeyed ham, only darker.”
Back outside, he still did not return to digging. “I think we’ve made the pit part big enough.”
“No, there’s not enough room to work up any speed yet.”
“Okay, you can keep up the digging. I’m going to start on the ramps and jumps.” He started rummaging through the boards Lou had brought back.
“There’s not room for those yet.”
“I’ll build them on top, and you can dig out a ramp to get to them. Or maybe we can dump some of my piles in and form them into a runway up here.”
“You won’t be able to work up speed that way.”
“Fine, I’ll only do a couple for up here. The rest we can lower down when you’re done digging. But I want to use these dirt piles as part of the design.”
By evening, Lou declared their progress far enough along they could take a break the next day and get the cement.
Since the only trimming Caspar had been able to find that Saturday was one hedge, they couldn’t afford as much as they wished.
“All that clipping should have earned enough for at least one more bag.” Caspar kicked at the bag of cement, then hopped backward with a yelp.
Lou grinned. “I told you you don’t know anything about cement.” He gave the bags an appraising look. “We’ll have to just pack down the main ground right now and use this for the special structures. Too bad there’s not a herd of elephants we can borrow to trample around down there.”
“We could just roll these bags back and forth. They’re heavy enough. How are we supposed to bring these home, anyway? Carrying them would be even worse than shoveling.” Caspar shook his foot in the air.
“Mmm. We could ask Mom to pick them up in the car.”
“I don’t want to ask her! She’ll make us do all the dishes for the summer, too!”
“Then what about Mr. Winkworth? He has a pick-up.”
Their neighbor sounded like a safe bet, so the boys paid for three bags and promised to pick them up soon, then biked back home. They actually met Mr. Winkworth halfway down their street with a pick-up load of old furniture pieces and waved him down.
“What are you boys up to?” he asked, smiling.
“Are you headed for the dump?” asked Caspar.
“Yes, I am. Do you need to hitch a ride?”
“No, we were just hop—I mean, wondering, if we could borrow your truck when you’re done. We need to haul stuff for a project in our back yard,” said Lou.
“Aren’t you still young to be driving?” Mr. Winkworth laughed like he had told a joke.
“Oh, no, sir, we wouldn’t be driving it. We would just do the loading.”
“All right, then. I have some business downtown after I drop this load off, but I’ll come over to your house later today.”
Lou watched wistfully as he drove off. “I wish he hadn’t remembered to ask about us being old enough to drive,” he said.
“We have learning permits,” said Caspar. “So we’re not actually too young.”
“Yeah, but I keep hoping people will see us practice driving and think we’re old enough to do it by ourselves.” He sighed. “Come on. Let’s see if Isabella has any ideas for packing down the ground.”
Isabella turned out to be gone for dulcimer lessons. Instead they spent the morning in a restful game of tackle frisbee until their mother came home with a list of jobs. After cleaning the car inside and out, she sent them over to old Mrs. Bridgers with a delivery of zucchini bread. A trip to Mrs. Bridgers was never quick. She always invited people in and talked for an hour or so. This time she kept them until noon and then insisted they stay for lunch.
As they headed back home close to one, Mr. Winkworth drove by again. This time the back of his truck was full of old, weathered boards. He pulled over and beckoned. “Jump in, boys!”
“What about our bikes?” asked Caspar.
“Throw them in the back. Don’t worry, we won’t let them get dumped.”
The boys complied and scrambled in. At the dump they helped unload the wood into the grind and burn pile.
“That should leave only one more load,” their neighbor said.
“Mr. Winkworth,” said Caspar. “Could we stop by the hardware store on the way home? It will only take a minute.”
Back at home, the boys unloaded their bikes and wrestled the cement into the garage—“So it won’t get rained on,” Lou said. Then they hustled back to where their neighbor stood waiting by another pile of planks at the side of the curb. In no time at all it was loaded and brought to the dump as well.
Back home, the boys scampered past Mrs. Atkins at the mailbox. She snagged Lou by the ear on his way by. He yelped in objection.
“Mo-om.” Caspar turned around and slowed.
“Come back here and tell Mr. Winkworth thank-you for the lovely afternoon.” She smiled at Mr. Winkworth. “I hope they didn’t plague you too much.”
“We didn’t plague him. We were helpful.” Caspar dragged back to the curb.
“Oh, no, not a problem,” Mr. Winkworth said. “They just needed a little help in the back yard. I imagine it was a bit overwhelming,” he winked, “But it should be fine now.”
Caspar stared. “Umm…Thank you very much for the use of your pickup and we are extremely glad that you had time to let us stop by at the hardware store and hope you have a great day. Come on, Lou,” he added in a mutter.
Lou looked pleadingly at his mother.
“We will be talking about this more,” she said softly, and released him.
Caspar seized his brother’s arm and dragged him off.
“Thank you, Bob,” Mrs. Atkins continued. “It is a blessing having you around with Henrick away.”
“Glad to be of service.”
“I don’t like the sound of this.” Caspar paused by the hedge that separated the front yard from the back.
“What do you think Mom is going to yell at us about this time?” asked Lou.
“That’s not what I meant. Since when were three bags of cement overwhelming?”
“Since you had to carry them?”
They burst around the corner of the house and skidded to a stop.
“Where—?” said Lou.
“I knew it!” Caspar began to stalk back and forth.
A haphazard pit still gaped before them, but the boards propped up in rickety ramps and ridges were all gone. Not a single plank remained.
“My wood!” cried Lou. “What happened to all of my wood?”
“I knew those boards looked familiar,” said Caspar. “He tricked us into throwing away our own supplies, the villain.”
“If you recognized them, why didn’t you say anything?”
A delicate throat clearing froze the exchange. The coming rebuke was going to be more severe than they had guessed.
Mrs. Atkin’s bone of contention was over not being told about the boy’s whereabouts. They were stuck at home for the rest of the week, and restricted in their activities there. Mostly that meant more yard work, less electronics. The front soon displayed three new bushes with a flower bed at its feet.
Friday evening Lou lay in the dogwood’s shade, a hat over his face. Outside he could not see the blank face of the screen staring at him.
A foot bumped his shoulder.
“Your turn to mow.”
“I thought you finished the front yard,” Lou mumbled through his hat.
“She said the back needed improvement, too, and you’re the one who threw dirt all over the place. You can figure out how to mow that.”
Lou groaned and rolled over. “Do you think she’s going to make us fill it in?”
“After all that digging? That would be horrible!” Caspar followed his brother to the back. “Too bad we can’t find something else to use this for. Like—hey, a pool! We could finish digging it out and make the whole back yard one pool!”
“There’s nothing epic about a pool.”
“Ours will be. We’ll have a wave machine and giant slides—”
“We don’t even have materials for a diving board.” Lou yanked on the mower’s pull-cord.
“Okay, a giant river, then. Just think. If we take up the whole yard, we won’t have to do any mowing.”
“Do you promise to do your fair share of the digging?”
Caspar rolled his eyes. “Yes, of course I won’t make you do all the work.”
Lou held his hand out.
Casper scrunched his face up, but reached out and shook it.
“Be ready with your shovel as soon as I’m done with the mower.”
“I think we should skip the mowing. If we start with digging up all the grass, there’ll be nothing left to mow.”
A smile began to grow on Lou’s face. “It’s worth a try.”
Caspar figured out how to peel the turf out in clumps, occasionally strips, and they piled it up along the edge of the house.
“If it’s piled, she can only insist on us cutting the top layer,” reasoned Lou. “Boy, I hope she does insist on it being weed-whacked. Wouldn’t that be fun waving it around in the air like that?”
“It will insulate the house as well, so it’s definitely an improvement,” Caspar added. “There’s only a little patch of grass left. I’ll get that while you dig deeper.”
“You just want to get out of the heavy work,” said Lou, but dug his shovel in deeper.
Mrs. Atkins raised her eyebrows when she went to call them in, but did not comment. That night Lou and Caspar stayed up late trying to come up with ways to earn enough money to cover the entire pool in cement. They finally decided to check the price of plastic lining. If it was cheaper, returning the cement they had already bought might cover most of it.
Saturday, Lou pushed hard all day. When Caspar slacked on digging, he set his twin on hauling dirt instead. “Put in all into one pile. Maybe we can make a mud slide like otters.”
“You know,” panted Caspar, “We wouldn’t have to line it at all. Then we could have the world’s most amazing mud pool.”
The next two days were filled with rain. When the rain slowed to a drizzle on Tuesday, Lou was ready to try digging in mud.
Caspar watched from the doorway. “I don’t think it’s working very well,” he called the second time the ground gave way beneath Lou and dropped him into the muddy pit.
“It’s making the hole wider,” countered Lou. “It’s just not helping with deeper. As long as we don’t get any more rain, we’ll be fine.”
Caspar ran his fingers through his bangs. “On the other hand, the rain is filling our pool up for us.”
Lou rubbed a hand across his forehead. “Aren’t you going to help?”
“It’s too sloppy.” A movement caught his eye. “Though if I had that…”
Lou turned to look.
Mr. Winkworth was nosing a backhoe up his driveway.
“You want to ask to borrow that?”
“No!” cried Caspar. “I’m not asking him anything! Look what happened last time.”
“You wanted to borrow it without asking?”
“No, I—quick, look away! He’ll see us.”
Mr. Winkworth waved.
Lou waved back. “What are you doing?” he called.
“All this rain flooded my sewer lines. Looks like you boys have your hands full.” He parked and started over.
“Oh, no, what did you do that for?” whispered Caspar, holding a hand in front of the side of his face toward the Winkworth property.
“If it keeps raining like this, we’ll have the biggest swimming pool in town,” Lou told Mr. Winkworth. He dug his shovel into the side of the hole, but the mud dissolved into the growing monster mud puddle before he could fling it aside.
“I see what you mean,” said Mr. Winkworth. “Well, it’s too muddy to do anything now, but once the ground gets a little firmer, I’ll come over with my backhoe. I’d planned on renting it for more than one day, anyhow. Projects always take longer than you expect.”
Lou grinned at his retreating back. “This will work better than your idea of using dogs to dig.”
“Well, I expect a catch somewhere,” retorted Caspar. “He’ll probably get so excited digging that he’ll get rid of my entire mud slide pile. We’ve got to watch him.”
“It doesn’t look much like a slide. In fact, I think it needs to be closer to the edge of the yard.”
“We’ll make the river go around it. Of course it doesn’t look like a slide yet. We haven’t started shaping it yet.”
Lou tapped his chin. “Today may be the perfect day to begin.”
“What, in the rain and mud?”
“How do you think otters do it?” Lou squirmed his shovelhead solidly into the ground.
“What do the—oh, no.” Caspar began to back away. “I’m not sliding around in the mud on my stomach. Get away from me. Louis!”
Lou flung himself against Caspar as his brother scrabbled at the door, and a great mud tussle was on.
The next morning, Randy stopped over with his dog, and they all played frisbee in the front yard. The game pushed all sounds of Mr. Winkman’s machine work to mere background noise. Lou was in the middle of a grand wrestling match with Randy’s dog to reclaim the frisbee, Isabella shouting the loudest from the circle of spectators, when Mrs. Atkins interrupted.
“Louis! Caspar! You grab your shovels right now and help Mr. Winkman. That back yard is yours, not a job to go shoving on the neighbors. Go!”
“I think we would get in the way more than help with his backhoe,” Caspar muttered, but far enough away his mother couldn’t hear. Retrieving their shovels from the garage, they rounded the house.
Caspar jerked to a stop and dropped his shovel.
Lou paused and frowned, head tipped.
Caspar ran forward. “Wait! Stop!”
The backhoe stopped mid-shovel as the arm-waving boy pelted forward.
“You’re filling it all in!”
“Careful,” said Bob Winkman. “I told Letty not to worry about it. Just a couple more scoops, and all you’ll have to do is lay sod. We should have it all filled in before anyone thinks to accuse you of having a swimming pool.”
“But…a pool is a good thing.”
“When it’s up to code and allowed in the neighborhood regulations, sure. I don’t know how you made such a mess back here. Must have been some treasure map, huh?” He waved them aside and continued shoveling mud back into the hole. When all the piles were gone, he rolled back and forth over the mud a few times in an attempt to flatten it, then waved and drove back home.
Lou and Caspar stared after him.
“Are pools really against the regulations?” asked Lou.
“I don’t know.”
“I thought you read those!”
“Not the back yard rules! There shouldn’t be any regulations; nobody can see in the back. I told you there would be trouble if we asked him for help.”
“Right. And this isn’t at all because of your daft idea.” Lou stomped over to the pile of turf pieces and knocked one down.
“There’s no reason to make a mess.”
“I’m replanting the grass now while the ground is wet. It’s going to be harder if we wait until the ground is dried up. I didn’t even get a chance to wield the weedwhacker up high.”
Caspar stood very still for several seconds. “Hard…dried up…ground. I’ve got it!”
“No.” Lou heaved down some more sod. “If this is more of your crazy schemes, no, no, and no.”
Caspar marched over, grabbed his twin by the shoulder, and pulled him around. “Are you going to let some Bob neighbor destroy all your fun for this summer? Are you giving up? Because if you are, fine, you can turn your shovel in and walk in docile little circles behind a lawnmower for the rest of the summer. But neighbor or no neighbor, Mom or not, no Bob is going to defeat me.” He pushed away. “I am going to make this the most awesome backyard ever, and all we need is a plan. That’s been our problem. We’ve been approaching this all slapdash.” He began pacing behind the house.
“Oh, yeah? And what kind of plan do you think will get you out of mowing this time?” Lou crossed his arms.
“It’s not just about work. Anything as awesome as this backyard will become will take work. The point is, to make the work worthwhile. Something that will be amazing when it’s finished, not just have to be done over and over again.”
“Our very own go-cart track!”
“You can ride go-carts anywhere. What’s so awesome about that.”
“You’re not thinking big. Think more along the lines of a—roller coaster go-cart track. Or a demolition derby.”
“A roller coaster demolition go-cart track? You think that’s not on the list of things not allowed?”
“Step number one in the plan: Check the Regulations Handbook to see if there’s any rules against it.”
“And what are the other four steps?”
Caspar couldn’t find any regulations against go-carts or race tracks or roller coasters or theme parks. He read through the entire handbook at Lou’s insistence. The closest he could find was a ban on junk vehicles sitting around. He figured they could back off on the demolition part for a little while, and no one could complain.
Lou, in the meantime, laid strips of grass out over the back yard. The sod had two purposes. It proved they were working to improve the backyard—now one could get almost anywhere without slogging through mud—and it served to help map out the track’s layout. That was Step Two of the plan: Have a Solid Blueprint Before Beginning.
The next step was to gather materials. If they could find transportation, they might be able to beg some supplies at the dump. To finish, they would needs funds to buy more. Lou promised to be responsible for that if Caspar would take care of step four: Keep Mother Happy.
It wouldn’t do to get halfway through constructing the track only to have her abort their plans. Caspar was to keep her distracted with weedeating and planting flowers in out-of-the-way places and washing the outside of the back windows until the track was almost done. Then if she objected, it would easier to show her how great the plan was, and remind her that she had told them they could do anything they wanted with the back yard.
“If I had known our villainous neighbor was filling in our pool, not digging it out, I would have reminded her of that when she told us to go help,” said Caspar.
“Yeah, and then we really would be doing all the dishes for the summer, plus she would have changed her mind and told us exactly what to do in the back yard, too,” said Lou.
Caspar frowned at the gardening catalogue he had borrowed from his Aunt Sandra. He was looking for flowers advertised as ‘hardy’ because he wanted them to be tough enough to survive on the edge of a demolition go-cart track.
“But I was thinking about transportation,” said Lou. “I bet Uncle Frank would be willing to stop at the junkyard someday and haul stuff, especially since I’ll be working at his place a lot.”
“As long as Winkworth doesn’t make off with it again.”
“If we keep it stacked neatly until we use it, it should be okay, especially if with we distract him while unloading the truck.”
That was part five of the plan: Do Not Let Mr. Winkworth Notice.
“How are we going to keep him from seeing, by the way?” asked Lou.
“I haven’t figured it out yet.” Caspar stroked his chin. “Maybe we could put up a barrier between us, a hedge or a fence.”
“That would take more materials.”
“Not as much as an invisibility barrier. Or we could rig up a device to call his phone every time we start working…but that wouldn’t be long enough.” He shook his head, flopping his bangs back and forth. “What we really need is a secret weapon.”
A grin dawned on Lou’s face. “I think I know just the one.”
“But I don’t want to play golf,” said Isabella.
“You just have to ask to learn it,” said Lou. “As soon as we’re done, you can tell him you decided you don’t like it, and you won’t have to go again.”
“It’ll be perfect. He’ll be gone for hours, and you’ll be able find out when he’s going to be gone by himself to play without raising any suspicions,” said Caspar.
Isabella frowned. “What suspicious thing are you up to now?”
“It’s nothing bad, Izzy,” said Lou. “We’re just building a go-cart track.”
“Then why do you need to hide it?”
“We just don’t want him to haul all our supplies away again.”
“It’s going to be super awesome and we aren’t going to let anyone mess it up,” added Caspar.
Isabella tossed her braid behind her. “Why should I care?”
“We’ll let you be the first person to ride on it,” said Lou.
She nibbled on her lip.
“It will have hills on it—like a roller coaster.”
“Would I have to go with someone, or could I drive it myself?”
“It would be your own solo ride—like Amelia Earhart.”
Isabella tipped her head.
Caspar opened his mouth, but his twin stepped on his foot. He glared, but kept quiet.
“Fine, I’ll try it,” said Isabella. “But I’m going to want more than one ride.”
“The first two,” agreed Lou. “And some chances later on, too. Shake?”
“Shake,” she agreed.
“The first two?” objected Caspar as they walked away. “That’s bargaining both of our maiden voyages away. Why couldn’t you have just agreed to share?”
Lou let him complain until they were out of earshot. “This way she does the test run for us,” he said, half under his breath. “And then, once we work out any kinks, a second run.”
Caspar stared. “She won’t do that.”
“Don’t tell her it’s a test run. Besides, she shook on it.”
“The second time we can tell her we worked out all the mistakes and it’s better.”
Caspar studied the sky. “I suppose. Unless it works perfectly the first time.”
Lou shrugged. “I’d say it was a small exchange. Unless you were wanting to do the test runs.”
“Well, maybe not. That depends. I guess I won’t have to worry about it now, though.”
Lou was able to get paid work not only from his Uncle Frank, but Mrs. Bridgers paid him for some yardwork, too. Still, Caspar kept complaining that the money was coming in too slowly for him to keep their mother happy with their work out back long enough. He grumbled when Lou used some of the money for a tarp to cover the metal parts their Uncle Frank had helped them haul from the dump, as well as some old farm equipment parts he had lying in the corner of a field at his place. Bob Winkman had not stirred the subject of an independent junk heap breaking rules, so Lou stood firm on the value of the tarp. After two weeks, Lou confiscated Caspar’s allowance and dragged him out to look for more materials. This time they borrowed a neighbor kid’s wagon to help transport it. Lou pulled. It was Caspar’s job to push and hold the longer pieces in from behind.
“This would work better if I could just sit on top,” he said. “Stop jiggling them. You just gave me a splinter.”
“The faster you push, the sooner we get home. They’ll be back from golfing soon.”
The course started with a big hill. Most of the framework was wood, to simulate a roller-coaster track, but it was wide to accommodate two go-carts, and the framework merged into a dip dug out of the ground. There was a second, shorter hill, then the plan called for banks of earth at the tight corners. The banks would be places to ride up on with enough skill and speed, and would also help keep the carts on the track—most especially keep them from crashing into the house. After going around once, the plan was to merge back onto the circuit right after the tall hill, assuming the driver was going fast enough to turn the second hill into a jump ramp. The trickiest part to build was going to be the winch that drew the go-carts up to the top of the first hill. The boys decided to start with just one, and work on a second once they had everything else perfected.
Caspar wanted to start with the embankments so as to keep the most easily seen part of the course out of sight as long as possible.
Lou disagreed. Isabella came back and checked on their progress several times a day. She critically eyed every shift of materials, and crossed her arms with a sniff every day nothing was done.
“If we start on the hills, it will look more impressive and Isabella will be less likely to bail out on us,” he explained. “Besides, once we see exactly how they turn out, it will be easier to get the rest of the track just right.”
“That’s what the plans are for.” Still, Caspar conceded. It did mean postponing digging for a bit. As it was, he still had plenty of time with the shovel, between planting flowers and the times Mr. Winkworth had stood out front to watch Isabella practice her swings and Lou had grabbed him to get some work done in the back. Those times they had dug because shovels were quieter than hammers. Lou also pointed out that by then the base of the first hill was finished so they knew where to start digging the dip. And as long as they were taking out dirt, they might as well move it to where they would need it for the turning banks.
“I wonder when the Powells will think to ask for their shovel back,” said Caspar.
Even with Isabella’s time and insight into their neighbor’s schedule, progress seemed to drag. Lou bought another tarp for the main hill as it passed two feet. Still, one day Mr. Winkworth paused to ask about what they had covered up in the backyard. “It looks like you have a project in the works,” he said.
Caspar, who was laying brick for an approved fire-pit surface, dramatically glanced back and forth, laid a finger to his lips, and said, “Shh.”
Mr. Winkworth looked surprised.
“We’re trying to keep it a secret,” Caspar added in a stage whisper.
Mr. Winkworth laughed. “As long as it’s a legal secret.”
“Oh, yes. Completely approved and by the book.”
“Well, in that case…” After that, he gave the boys frequent winks, but did not ask about their backyard.
Their chance finally came when Mr. Winkworth left for a week-long teaching seminar. They worked in a flurry, spending all morning and into the dusk in the back yard. Electronics and all side efforts in back yard improvement were abandoned. Caspar took over work in the front while Lou was gone working at the other job commitments he had picked up.
Mounds raised their heads.
The second hill in especial stirred up argument. Caspar wanted it to be a close second to the first, six-foot hill, but Lou was afraid that if they made it too steep, the go-cart would crash into it instead of driving up, or only get half way up before toppling backwards. They compromised with an incline that started gentle and became moderate, then dropped away steeply on the other side.
Friday morning Lou smoothed down the last of the track while Caspar finished fiddling with the crank and pulley system.
“Done!” cried Lou, throwing down his shovel.
Caspar whooped. “I’m a genius!”
“Now we have to test this thing.”
“Where’s that wagon?” Caspar whipped his head around, looking.
Lou pounced on it and dumped out the stepping stones in it. “How are we going to hook it up?”
“I think if I wrap a rope around here—”
“Don’t forget you promised me the first ride.” Isabell stood at the sliding back door. “The first two, as a matter of fact. And I certainly have earned them.”
The twins exchanged a glance. They had actually been planning to send the wagon down the hills empty first, but now that Isabella was here, they didn’t want to get her thinking about test runs.
“Of course you have,” said Lou. “Do you think you’re ready?”
“Of course I am.” She walked over to the six foot hill in the back corner of the yard. “But it doesn’t look much like the pictures I’ve seen of roller coasters.”
“It is our first one,” Lou pointed out.
“Besides, ours should be extra sturdy.” Caspar patted the mass of timber and second-hand metal. “There are more supports. And we used cement for a foundation.”
“Caspar will hook you up while I go get a helmet.” Lou sprinted toward the garage.
“This thing crashes?” Isabella eyed Caspar with suspicion.
“We’re just doing the first run with the wagon, and Lou’s not sure how well you steer them.”
“You said the first two go-cart rides. You’re still going to owe them.”
Caspar rolled his eyes. “The agreement was, you’d get the first two rides on the go-cart track. No one said they would both be in a proper go-cart. Now, are you getting in or not?”
“Fine.” She clambered in while Caspar hooked a large carbiner to the wagon’s make-shift rope harness. “But the second one had better be. And I’m telling Lou.”
“Girls,” Caspar muttered.
“Here you go.” Lou ran back up and plopped an old bicycle helmet on his younger sister’s head. “Ready to go?”
“When you get to the top, wait until I say, then unclip the carbiner,” said Caspar. “Hold on.” He began to crank his pulley system.
The wagon jerked forward.
Isabella squeaked as she jerked back. She grabbed onto the wagon handle and hugged herself to it to keep from sliding backwards any more. The wagon slewed around a bit on the way up.
“Loosen your hold on the steering,” called Caspar. “And lean back a bit.”
She sat up a little straighter.
Caspar cranked until the wagon teetered over the edge. “Okay, unclip the carbiner.”
The rope anchoring the carbiner and cord was wrapped at the back of the wagon, right in front of the tires. Slowly, Isabella twisted back and tried to unclip with one hand. There was too much pressure on the rope to easily slip the hooked metal free. She scootched around a little more, leaning one knee on the handle to free both hands for the job.
The front wheels turned to the right.
“Watch out, you’re going to need to straighten out—” Caspar tried to warn her.
With one more wriggle, the wagon slipped free.
The sudden plunge threw Isabella out of the wagon backwards. She rolled off the side of the hill. Lou sprang toward her. He didn’t catch her, exactly, but managed to cushion most of her landing.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Look at it go!” said Caspar.
The wagon whizzed down the slope and hit the second hill at an angle. The gentle slope kept it going; in fact, it acted like a ramp and shot it rattling into the air.
Three pairs of eyes stared, tranfixed, as the wagon soared out of the yard and dove into Mr. Winkworth’s rhododendrum bush. The crunch as it landed vertically made the boys wince. It stayed lodged upright, its back wheels still twirling in the air.
Caspar sighed. “Even when he’s not here he’s trouble.”
“At least it’s not a window,” Lou said.
Isabella began to wail. “I thought you said you were ready.”
Caspar kept his eyes on the squeaking wheels. “We didn’t know you needed a seatbelt.”
“Sorry, sis.” Lou pulled her close. “Next time the release mechanism will be better, promise.”
Caspar walked over to inspect the bush. He circled it twice. “I’ll bet this takes some digging.” His face was long.
The back door opened.
“What is going on? Isabella?” demanded Mrs. Atkins. Then she saw the rhododendrum bush. “What happened?” Her voice sharpened.
Caspar glanced at his sister with low eyebrows, but said “It was an accident. We were just trying to improve the back yard, but it still needs work. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of Mr. Winkworth’s bush.”
“I’ll say! After all the help Bob has given you boys this summer, I expect you to do more than that.” Mrs. Atkins had her fists on her hips.
“It wasn’t even our fault—” Caspar bit the words off. “We will. We know what it’s like to have someone intrude and mess up your work. We certainly wouldn’t want Mr. Winkworth coming over and ruining the awesomeness of our back yard.”
Mrs. Atkins studied him with narrowed eyes. Then she scrutinized the yard. Lou held his breath. This was it. The verdict was about to be laid down.
She pressed her lips together into a thin line. Her toes started tapping. Not a good sign.
“The morning glory arbour in sight of the new birdhouse and birdbath is nice, but the bulk of the yard is an eyesore. I see I need to fully investigate your mischief back here.”
“This is no mischief. It’s a masterpiece! The world’s first roller coaster go-cart racetrack.” Caspar strode over to properly wave emphasis as he talked. He was quickly gearing into full oratory mode.
Lou gently put Isabella down and sidled up to his twin, ready to kick him into silence if his mouth got carried away.
“Two hills, the second carefully engineered to prevent flips, and dirt banks at every steep curve. Observe how all flowers are planted clear of the banks. These natural walls protect them, the house, and even anyone lounging about the arbor or firepit.”
“Minimal sod has been retained for aesthetic purposes and to offer a pathway to any part of the yard. Hours of good, clean, screen-free fun is fully provided, with no cost to you.”
Lou stopped following Caspar in his circuit. He was too worked up to stop with anything less than a full body tackle anymore.
“And it is all close to home, where you will never need to wonder where your children are.”
Mrs. Atkins cut smoothly in. “I’m not sure you can call it good if it’s illegal. I can’t imagine this is something allowed for in the neighborhood handbook.”
“But it is! We checked, and there are no regulations against it. That was the first step of our five part plan. A plan that even brought you flowers.”
Mrs. Atkins tapped her fingers against her folded arms.
Lou quickly tossed a pebble at Caspar to keep him from starting up again. If they could just keep quiet, there might be a chance.
Caspar scowled at him, but closed his mouth.
“Well, the first thing you two will do is make a five part plan on how to be a good neighbor to Mr. Winkworth. You will hand it in to me to approve before you start carrying it out.”
“Yes, ma’am,” they chorused.
“And at the first whisper of a complaint I get about this, it comes down.”
Caspar nodded his head vigorously.
“You will have it thoroughly tested out so that it does not land in neighboring rhododendron bushes or other catastrophes before a human tries it out.”
Neither boy dared look at each other or Isabella as they agreed.
“I suppose, though, you are right about it keeping you occupied.” She tipped her head thoughtfully. “I do have one more question, though. Where are you going to get go carts?”
Lou flopped his head into his hand. “Hey, genius,” he called to Caspar. “You forgot step six.”