The Junkyard Story Series: Episode 9 - A Heart-Racing Story
The Junkyard Story Series: Episode 9 - A Heart-Racing Story
A Heart-Racing Story
Ten-year-old mates Joe Sakana and Mike Himmel watched the action in the Himmel-family junkyard with satisfaction. Tonk and Rusty were racing each other on an obstacle course, ducking through a tunnel made of tyres and scrambling over broken sofas. El Capitan, the robot turtle made from an old Spanish sports car, was teaching flamenco dancing to Ms Ratchet and Mayor Crick. Snappy, the robot alligator, stood next to Joe and Mike and sighed contentedly.
“Our little village is really shaping up,” Snappy said. “I can’t wait for the rest of the animals to join us.”
Mike and Joe looked at each other with raised eyebrows.
“The rest of the animals?” Mike wondered under his breath.
Joe adjusted his glasses and gulped.
“Yeah,” whispered Joe. “How many more animals is Snappy expecting?”
Mike tugged Joe away from Snappy.
“I’m not against building more,” said Mike. “But we should check to see how many more electric hearts we’ve got.”
When summer was just beginning, Joe had found the first electric heart in a pile of junk. On a whim, he and Mike installed it in the chest of their alligator sculpture. They had no idea it would bring the alligator to life. But after the boys finished soldering the device’s four copper wires, Snappy sat up and began talking to the two boys as if he had simply woken up from a nap. Then he ushered them to a rusty metal suitcase containing several more of these mind-boggling hearts, which have now brought five more sculptures to life.
Every now and then, the boys would wonder who constructed the hearts. But today, they found out. When Mike and Joe pulled out the four hearts that remained in the suitcase, they noticed the fabric that lined the bottom of the case was torn.
“Hey, Joe,” said Mike, peering through the holes in the fabric, “there’s something underneath!”
And that’s how they found the letter from Professor Lydia Truffle. As Mike read the letter aloud to Joe, their eyes grew wide in amazement. Professor Truffle wrote that Cucumberbury was a secret village of robotic creatures. The creatures were animated by special mechanical hearts that the professor crafted, using a rare metal called “vivium”.
“But people were beginning to suspect that Cucumberbury existed,” wrote the Professor. “I worried that someone would do the creatures harm or use them for a bad purpose. So, I did a difficult thing. I dismantled the creatures and stowed their hearts in a suitcase. To hide the rest of their parts, I created a junkyard which I then sold to Benjamin Himmel.”
“Wicked!” said Mike. “That’s my grandfather!”
“No way!” said Joe, before grabbing the letter.
“I hope,” Joe read aloud, “that one day in the future, someone will find this letter and bring the creatures to life again. But I’ll need to know you’ll have the best interest of these creatures in mind. I need to know you’ll care for them as I have. That’s why I’ve set up a test.”
Mike screwed up his face.
“A test? What test?”
“Uh oh,” said Joe, as he continued to read the letter to himself. “She says that once a heart starts, it will run for fifty days. On the fiftieth day, it will stop forever unless we pass her test. That means all our animals are in danger!”
“How long has it been since Snappy came to life?!” Mike said with alarm. Using a calendar taped to the wall of their workshop, Mike and Joe counted back to the middle of June.
“Forty-nine days!” said Joe.
Snappy’s voice behind the boys made them jump.
“What are you lads up to?”
“Not a thing!” said Mike.
“Come join us for a game of Cucumberbury Tag,” said Snappy.
The boys told him they’d be right over.
“We can’t let Snappy know he may only have one more day of life,” whispered Mike to Joe.
“We have to do Truffle’s test now!” said Joe.
At the bottom of Professor Truffle’s letter, there was a hand-drawn map of Cucumberbury. An “X” marked a spot on what looked like the stump of a tree.
“At the intersection of Rhubarb Avenue and Marrow Lane?” Joe wondered aloud.
“Never heard of those streets,” said Mike. “But I think I know that stump.”
Joe followed Mike to an unremarkable spot in the junkyard and watched him clear some debris until the stump of a large tree was revealed. Mike scratched his head.
“I’m sure this is the spot marked on the map. But how is a stump part of a test?” he wondered.
Joe crouched down to examine the stump. His eyes lit up.
“Mike! Look at this!”
Joe was pointing to the side of the stump, where there was a rusty hinge. Mike looked at Joe with wide eyes. Then he banged on the stump with his fist.
The stump was made of metal! Mike lifted the top of the stump as if it were the hatch door of a submarine.
A set of stairs was revealed, leading down into darkness. A device the size of a penknife hung on a hook at the top of the stairs. Above the hook, Professor Truffle had written “Welcome!” in her distinctive handwriting. Joe pressed a small button on the device.
A tiny screwdriver with an odd-shaped point swivelled out. When Joe pressed the button again, a small pair of scissors was revealed. Pressing the button a third time activated a little torch.
“Wicked!” said Mike. “That Truffle was quite the inventor, huh?”
“So,” Joe gulped, “I guess we head down the stairs now?”
Joe pointed the penlight and the boys descended for several minutes before reaching a narrow, dank-smelling hallway. They walked slowly through shallow puddles, their steps echoing in an underground passage hidden under the Swindon junkyard for a hundred years. As they walked, a ticking sound got louder and louder.
Finally, they reached a room at the end of the hallway. Embedded in one of the walls was a panel containing what looked like ten small clocks, but with numbers on its face running from one to fifty. Six of the clocks were illuminated, and each of the six pointed to a different number.
“Mike! This first one – it’s pointing to the number forty-nine!” said Joe. “I bet this is somehow connected to Snappy’s electric heart!”
“Look at this!” said Mike, pointing to a plaque on the wall. “It’s instructions from the Professor. She says there’s a switch under each timer. Flip a switch and you’ll turn off that heart forever.”
Joe finished reading the rest of the plaque. “But turning off one heart saves all the others. So choose a switch.”
Mike and Joe stared at the timers as they tick-tick-ticked. Each timer represented one of their robot friends – cheeky Tonk the rabbit, fusty Ol’ Crick the frog and Ratchet, Rusty, Snappy, El Capitan…
“Joe,” said Mike, “I could never turn off any of them!”
“Me neither!” Joe said. “But they’re all going to turn off if we don’t do something!”
“Well,” said Mike, “then let’s do something! Hand me that torch, will ya?”
Mike pressed the button to reveal the small screwdriver. He stuck it into one of the screws that fastened the panel to the wall.
“A perfect fit!” said Mike.
Working quickly, he unscrewed all the screws. Joe helped him pull the panel off the wall. They saw that the timers were each connected to a strange-looking engine with lots of gears spinning around. Mike pressed the button on the penlight to reveal the small scissors. Joe gave Mike a nod.
*Snip Snip Snip!*
One by one, Mike began cutting the wires.
“I hope we’re not making things worse!” said Joe.
Mike snipped the last wire. A deafening bell began to ring along with the fanfare of trumpets. Part of the wall on the opposite side of the room began to rise, revealing a screen. The image of a woman appeared.
“I’m Lydia Truffle,” the image said. “And I’d like to congratulate you. By choosing not to choose, you’ve clearly demonstrated that you care about all the robot creatures. I know you’ll protect them as best you can! Thank you.”
As Mike and Joe headed back up the stairs, they marvelled at Ms Truffle’s genius.
“She was really ahead of her time!” said Joe as they closed the tree-stump door and headed back to their mechanical friends.
“Where were you?” asked Snappy. “You missed our game of tag!”
“Ah sorry, Snappy,” said Mike. “I guess we got distracted.”
“That’s okay,” Ms Ratchet said. “We know your hearts are in the right place.”
Mike laughed. “And we know your hearts are, too!”