Friday, March 18, 2011

keyhole: grampy

Alice twirled to the right and looked into this keyhole...

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by Peter Abrahams
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Ingrid drove the tractor across Grampy’s fields. Every so often he’d point out the direction he wanted to go and Ingrid would make a slight change in course. At first she drove in that Mom/Chief Strade style, both hands on the wheel, ten minutes to two; but soon she was experimenting with Dad’s two-finger grip. What was more fun that this? Let freedom ring!

“Round the orchard,” Grampy said.

Ingrid steered onto the cart path that circled Grampy’s apple trees, headed toward the back road. At the top of a rise, the wind rattling some old cornstalks, stiff and brown, he said, “Whoa.”

Ingrid stepped on the brake and they came to a stop, maybe a little abrupt. Grampy said, “Look down there and tell me what you see.”

Ingrid gazed down a long, gradual slope. “An old falling-down shed. Fields. The back road.”

“What about that little sinkhole at the bottom?”

Ingrid saw a small circular depression not far from the road. “What about it?” she said.

“Important environmental feature,” said Grampy.

“It is?”

“Not now,” said Grampy. “But in the near future.”

He climbed down from the tractor, took a wooden crate off the back.

“Grab that cooler,” he said.

Ingrid grabbed the cooler, a medium-size one, not heavy. They walked down the slope.

“Is this the land they want for the condos?” she said.

“Soon see about that,” said Grampy. “Know how close the water table comes to the surface, down in that sinkhole? Two inches. Now suppose that sinkhole sank some more, got filled up with water permanently. Then what?”

“You could swim in it?” said Ingrid.

“Why’d I want to do a thing like that?” said Grampy. “No circulation. It’s gonna be a scum bath.”

At the edge of the sinkhole Grampy set down the crate, opened the top.

“What’s that?” Ingrid said.

“Dynamite, kid,” said Grampy. “Gonna just rearrange the surface level the teensiest bit.”

“But why?”

“Bring that water level up, like I just told you,” said Grampy. “Make a nice little pond.”

“I still don’t get it.”

Grampy looked down at her, smiled. “Open the cooler,” he said.

Ingrid opened the cooler. Inside lay some Baggies, maybe a dozen, filled with water, and in the water floated these long strings of tiny round balls, jellylike and almost see-through.

“What are these?”

“Toad eggs,” said Grampy. “And not just any toad eggs, but good old”—Grampy dug a scrap of paper from his pocket—“Scaphiopus holbrooki, otherwise known as the eastern spadefoot toad.” Grampy looked up in triumph.

Ingrid was lost.

“The endangered eastern spadefoot toad,” said Grampy. “One hundred percent officially endangered, U.S.D.A. certified Grade A, signed, sealed, and delivered. See where I’m headed with this?”

Ingrid caught the first glimmerings.

Grampy reached into the crate. “What do you think?” he said. “Two sticks or three?”

“You know about dynamite, Grampy?”

His eyes darkened; she guessed he was thinking about the war. “Hardly a newfangled invention,” he said.

In the end Grampy settled on four sticks of dynamite. He and Ingrid huddled behind a big tree, partway up the slope. Grampy pointed a remote—not too different from an ordinary TV remote—and pressed a button. KA-BOOM! A mud cloud rose in the air, real high, for some reason better than any Fourth of July Ingrid could remember, and came splattering back to earth.

“Grampy!” She was jumping up and down.

“Maybe three would have done,” said Grampy. But he was smiling, kind of a savage smile if you looked from a certain angle.

It got very quiet, as if all nature was stunned. Water was rising in the sinkhole now, the bottom wet already. Ingrid took off her shoes and socks, rolled up her sweatpants, and went into the hole, planting toad eggs in hollowed-out nests of mud. Endangered toad eggs—more powerful than any developer, even Donald Trump.

The water rose and rose. It was two feet high by the time they climbed back on the tractor.

“I’m an environmentalist,” Grampy said. “That kind of gets lost in the shuffle.”


Excerpt: Grampy Versus the Developers: From Down the Rabbit Hole (book one in the Echo Falls series by Peter Abrahams)
© 2005. All rights reserved.

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by Peter Abrahams
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Should Alice open this door?

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