The summer sun had begun to set. But in a Swindon junkyard, five cricket players showed no signs of stopping their game. Tonk, a rabbit made of car parts, cocked his arm back.
“You’ll never hit this one!” he called out. With a mighty grunt…
… he threw the ball towards Snappy, the batter. The tall robot alligator swung his bat.
Snappy sent the ball so high into the air, it looked like it would leave the junkyard altogether. However, a robot grasshopper playing for Tonk’s team…
… leaped with her powerful mechanical legs even higher than the ball and caught it with ease.
“Oh good show, Ms Ratchet, good show!” applauded the robot frog, Mayor Crick.
“Hey guys!” Joe Sakana called out to the players. “Take a break and meet your new neighbour!”
Joe and his best friend, Mike, had spent all afternoon welding together metal bits and bobs to make a small sculpture that resembled a dog. Now, as the other robot animals gathered around them, the two boys attached a special electrical heart inside the sculpture’s chest as it lay on a table made of tyres. Now its gears and wires began surging with life.
*WHIRR! CREAK! CRACKLE!*
Everyone leaned closer. The dog’s ears began to flutter. Its legs began to move. Suddenly, it jumped off the table and ran in circles chasing its car-antenna tail. Then it sat on its rump and opened its mouth.
Mike and Joe beamed with delight. Mike patted the robot animal on its rusty head.
“Joey, he’s brilliant! I always wanted a dog!”
However, Mike and Joe noticed that the other robot animals were exchanging nervous glances. Mike pulled Mayor Crick closer.
“Give ‘im a pat! Go on!” said Mike. “He won’t bite!”
“Er, um, yes,” Mayor Crick said as he patted the dog cautiously once or twice before stepping away again.
“What’s with you guys?” Joe asked. “Is something wrong?”
“Well…” began Ms. Ratchet. “Can he speak?”
The dog answered eagerly. “Not...*Woof!*...much!”
“But he’s as cute as they come!” Mike said in the dog’s defence. “And we needed an eighth player for our big Junkyard Cricket Championship tomorrow! Just watch how he fetches cricket balls!”
Mike flung a ball halfway across the junkyard.
The ball bounced into a heap of oil cans. The dog’s eyes, made of headlamps, lit up. He dashed towards the ball at top speed. While the dog was away, Ol’ Crick took the opportunity to take the boys aside.
“The thing is, lads… he’s… well… rusty.”
Mike clapped the robot frog on the shoulder.
“Crick! That’s the perfect name! From now on, that’s what we’ll call him. ‘Rusty’!”
By this time, Rusty had returned with the ball in its mouth. It sat down to scratch behind its ear, sending flakes of orange rust into the air. Crick looked at Rusty worriedly before moving closer to the boys.
“No,” he whispered. “I mean… he’s covered in rust. Head to toe.”
“Well, Rusty doesn’t seem to mind,” said Joe. “So, what’s the problem?”
Snappy chimed in. “The problem is that rust is contagious.”
Mike and Joe looked at Snappy in confusion. Ms Ratchet nodded in agreement.
“It’s like a cold,” she said. “You can catch it. Rust can spread.”
Mike and Joe laughed. Surely these metal creatures were joking!
“No, we’re quite serious,” said Ms Ratchet.
“But,” spluttered Mike, “that’s not how rust works!”
Mike explained that most car parts are made of steel, and steel is made from iron. When iron comes in contact with moisture, or with oxygen in the air, it gets orange and flaky.
“That’s how you get rust,” said Mike. “You can’t just ‘catch’ it!”
“And,” Joe added, “you guys all have rust-proof paint! So there’s nothing to worry about!”
“Well,” said Snappy. “You have your view, and we have ours.”
Suddenly, Rusty sneezed…
… sending little orange flakes into the air.
“Run away!” yelled El Capitan, the robot turtle.
All the robot animals except Rusty hopped and scampered towards their homes.
As Mayor Crick headed towards his campervan, he looked at his hand in alarm.
“Oh dear, and I petted his head! Oh dear, oh dear!”
Joe and Mike heard Crick lock the door of his campervan.
“You guys are being ridiculous!” Mike shouted.
By now, it was getting dark in the junkyard and the robot animals were shutting down for the night. The boys figured they’d try reasoning with them in the morning. Joe looked down at Rusty, who had just dropped the cricket ball into his hand and was now wagging his car antenna eagerly.
“Okay, okay. One more throw before bed!”
Joe tossed the ball. It bounced on the roof of Crick’s campervan before disappearing into some bushes. Rusty ran after it. He leaped on top of Crick’s campervan and ploughed through the junk piled on the roof, before jumping off again and retrieving the ball.
“Good boy!” said Joe.
Mike gave Joe a playful punch on the arm as they left the junkyard.
“Better get some sleep. We’re on opposite teams tomorrow for the cricket match, so you’re gonna need all the rest you can get!”
The next morning, however, the boys were informed by the robot animals that the cricket match was postponed.
“How come?” asked Mike.
Mayor Crick moved stiffly towards them.
“Because of this,” he said pointing to his right arm and leg, which were now covered in large orange splotches. “I discovered it when I woke up this morning. Rust!”
Joe looked closer. “You’re sure that’s what it is?” Joe asked.
“It’s orange, isn’t it?” replied Mayor Crick. “I must have been infected when I pet Rusty yesterday!”
“And his joints are stiff,” said Ratchet. “If it gets any worse, he won’t be able to move at all!”
“Until my rust clears up,” said Crick, “I shall be staying in a little hut on the other side of the junkyard. It’s the responsible thing to do.”
As Mayor Crick began shuffling away, the other robot animals insisted that Rusty be kept far away from everyone.
“But that would make Rusty sad,” Mike protested. “He loves being with us!”
“Hey, speaking of which,” said Joe, looking around, “where is Rusty?”
Just then, they heard a clatter coming from inside Snappy’s scrap-metal shack.
*CRASH! ARF ARF! GRRRR!*
“Oh dear!” said the robot alligator. “Don’t tell me he’s inside my home!”
They all rushed over to Snappy’s shack. They found Rusty tossing a large wrench across the room with his mouth and then pouncing on it.
“He thinks it’s a bone,” observed Joe.
“Yes, but now he has infected my place,” said Snappy. “I certainly can’t sleep here tonight.”
Ms Ratchet suggested he sleep in Mayor Crick’s campervan, since Crick had moved out. The other animals thought this was a good idea. Joe and Mike rolled their eyes.
“Rust isn’t infectious!” Mike said, completely sure of himself.
The next morning, Mike was a little less sure of himself. Moving stiffly, Snappy emerged from the campervan looking very orange.
Barely able to move his jaws, Snappy said, “I’m afraid we can’t have our cricket match today either.”
“Uhh… let’s all stay calm!” Joe said.
But the robot animals didn’t hear him. They were too busy locking themselves in their homes, determined to remain alone and indoors until further notice. Rusty felt bad.
“Arf! I’m sorry!” he said sadly.
But Mike and Joe were sure that Rusty’s rust wasn’t spreading.
“Don’t worry, Rusty,” Mike said. “We’ll get to the bottom of this!”
The boys searched Mayor Crick’s campervan for clues. After all, both Crick and Snappy slept there before appearing to have rust the next morning. By now it was nearly noon. When they looked down at the bed, they saw a small circle of sunlight. They followed the sunbeam up to a tiny hole in the ceiling directly over the bed.
“Hmm,” said Joe.
Rusty jumped, trying to grab the sunbeam with his teeth. His landing jostled the campervan. A sprinkling of dust fell down from the hole.
“C’mon!” Mike said. “Let’s check the roof!”
Once they climbed to the top of the campervan, the boys solved the mystery. They found an old jar of Zesto Orange Drink Powder tipped on its side right by the hole.
“When Rusty chased after that cricket ball the other day, he must’ve knocked it over!” said Joe.
“And every time Crick or Snappy shifted in their sleep,” added Mike, “it jostled the campervan just enough for more orange powder to sprinkle on top of them!”
The boys gathered all the robot animals together to tell them their findings. They weren’t covered in rust. They were covered in drink mix.
“But how do you explain our stiff joints?!” Snappy asked.
“It’s all in your brain bulbs!” said Mike. “You convinced yourself you had rust, and that’s all it took to feel rusty!”
Mayor Crick said he felt less stiff already. Then he crouched down to the robot dog’s level to say, “I believe we all owe you an apology.”
Rusty licked Mayor Crick’s face with a tongue made from the handle of a car door.
“And now,” said Tonk, rubbing his hands together. “How about some cricket?!”
Benefits of reading Junkyard - Rusty
This short story covers the friendship theme. Rusty is written and narrated in the third person. We recommend children with a reading age of 6 - 10 years old for this story.
Who are the main characters in Junkyard - Rusty
The main character in the Junkyard series is ten-year-old Joe Sakana and his best friend Mike Himmel. This is a sci-fi story series set in Swindon where the boys create robots that become characters.