"Okay, man, watch this one!" Keith dribbled down his driveway and bounced the ball off the rim of the hoop attached to his garage.
"Now you watch," I said.
I reached out, grabbing the ball, twisted and shot, the ball slipping through without jiggling the net. Three to one my lead.
"Just luck, BB," Keith said, shooting another point.
I was dribbling when he swatted the ball out of my hands. "Last point for you, BB."
Keith hooked a shot into his mother's gardenia bush.
I didn't laugh; instead I sank another shot then stole the ball from Keith. Right in the middle of that one-on-one with me three points ahead, a bunch of kids showed up to see Keith's animals.
A couple years ago Keith built a small zoo for animals he'd rescued here and there: squirrels, a tortoise, a few mice, a snake or two. Since Keith makes money to feed the animals from visitors' donations, I took my dog Fuzzy Buddy, my basketball and went home so Keith could give his tour.
Spring break had taken forever to come; not that I didn't like school. Eighth grade at John Muir Middle School had turned out to be more fun than I would have imagined: sports, parties, a couple of teachers who probably should have been teaching junior college rather than my grade. My science teacher was one.
I always liked vacations, though, having time to hang out. One thing, my little sister, Sissy, was going to spend the week with my mother at the Flower Shop. Dad was working down in Parkfield with a group of geologists setting up some sort of electronic gadgets. Dad thinks they can predict earthquakes that way. After break, Dad planned to talk to our science class. Maybe that's one reason I liked the teacher so much. She seemed interested in more than regular lessons.
For that whole Spring Break week I was totally free to do what I wanted, once I finished our math and history assignments. Between talking on the phone with Gin, a girl I liked a lot--we checked our math answers one time, so I guess that conversation counted as study--and shooting baskets with Keith, my next door neighbor, I had used up a couple days.
I don't know about anyone else, but sometimes I run out of things to do before I run out of time. That's what happened Wednesday. I snacked on a Cream Soda and sliced apple. One day soon I'd get out of braces and could bite apples whole. I flopped down on my bed with a book on basketball greats. Nothing excited me very much.
Wandering down to the den, I flipped on the TV and started flipping through the stations.
"See your Toyota dealer today," flip, "For the rest of the country a warming trend," flip.
The phone rang.
"BB, it's Mom. I forgot that Fuzzy Buddy needs his shots. Sissy and I are in the middle of arranging bouquets for an anniversary party tonight."
I could imagine Mom and Sissy sitting at the long table in the back of the Flower Shop, scissors, ribbons, baskets or vases, and piles of flowers spread out in front of them. Mom had an eye for arrangements and she was a good teacher, too. Sissy already seemed to be getting very artistic.
"I'll take Fuzz, Mom." I was flipping channels so fast all I could see was colors zipping across the screen.
"I'll call and arrange to send Doctor Taylor a check."
"Okay. See you later."
"I'm sorry I've imposed on your break."
"No problem." Impose? Mom had saved the day as far as I was concerned.
I let my thumb up from the remote. "Astrologers are waiting. Call now. The stars hold the answers to every aspect of your life. Call 555-STAR. Maybe the stars would tell me something cool to do on spring break.
I called Gin.
"Want to come with Fuzzy and me to the vet's?"
"Great. Where do you want to meet?"
"I'll see you in the park, by the fountain. Two o'clock."
"That's pushing it. I need a head start, BB. Give me an extra 10 minutes."
"Okay by me. Tell Myrtle hello' from me."
Myrtle was an old lady, but we didn't know exactly how old. When Gin ran away from home, Myrtle gave Gin a room at her house. I never could figure out why Gin's mother seemed relieved, but Gin and I didn't discuss her mother.
Gin stayed friendly with her sister Bella, but mostly Gin considered Myrtle her family. I liked Myrtle a lot. She was very intelligent and sort of mysterious, asking us questions, smiling at our answers. Myrtle seemed to know everything; I don't know why she asked us things all the time, except that she wanted someone to talk to.
"Okay, Fuzz, park time."
Fuzzy Buddy ran around in circles, jumped up on my bed, stood on his back legs, and pawed at the air.
"You're a good boy." I ruffled his dark gray hair. He was a mix of toy breeds, short legs, floppy ears, fuzzy face. His tail stuck up and he wagged it when he ran. Mom had found Fuzzy Buddy in the alley by her Flower Shop when he was a tiny puppy. I was a little kid then and cried until Mom let us keep Fuzz. We brought him home in one of Mom's flower arranging baskets. Mom had wanted to call him chrysanthemum. I talked her out of that!
I put on jeans, my new basketball shoes, and my backpack so when Fuzz got tired I could carry him. Fuzz can run like crazy, but we had a ways to go to the vet, and it seemed only fair to give my little dog a ride home after he had his shots.
With Fuzz beside me, I took off on my skateboard to meet Gin. Fuzz got distracted by a cat once and a squirrel another time, but we weren't in a hurry. Myrtle lived twice as far from the park as we did--sounded like one of those terrible math questions.
If Gin lives twice as far from the park as BB, how much longer must she travel, going half again as fast as BB, to reach the fountain at the same time he does? Who knew? Who cared?
I didn't care so long as we both got to the park. I made some jumps off the edge of a driveway and onto the sidewalk. Now that was something I could do with the rest of Spring Break: I could build me a ramp.
As I circled the fountain on my skateboard, I designed a ramp in my mind. Boards came out the garage window, swooped up over Sissy's sandbox, and back down to a place where I could grab the swinging rope from the tree.
"Hey, BB, where are you?"
Gin had on pink tights, black bicycle shorts, a long pink shirt, and she'd tied her red hair in a bushy ponytail. She was wearing apple-shaped earrings; probably she'd made them. An apple was Gin's signature she used on her drawings. Gin sat on her bicycle with Fuzzy Buddy in her lap. He was licking her chin.
"You go off in your head like a hermit sometimes."
"Me a hermit? I don't think so. It's just my massive brain expanding."
"You're weird when you're like that," Gin said.
"Not weird! I was thinking about a project," I said.
"Talking about projects, Myrtle has me organizing all her photo albums, and she's got a lot of them. About fifty, I think."
"That'll keep you busy longer than Spring Break."
"I don't mind. Myrtle has had an interesting life. She visited the sewers of Paris! Can you imagine doing that?"
"Yuck. I think the park's a better place to visit; I'm not much for dark tunnels."
"Me neither, to tell the truth. But I've been having a great time looking at her post cards and photos. I hope I can have as interesting a life as Myrtle's had." Gin walked her bike; Fuzzy trotted beside her.
We turned through the gardens where all sorts of bushes were in bloom. Gin stopped and pulled her drawing pad out of the saddle bags on her bike, then she sat and sketched some white flowers that smelled really sweet. Next she drew Fuzzy's face. Since we'd become friends, Gin had drawn dozens of pictures of Fuzzy Buddy.
"That's a great picture."
"You can have it." Gin ripped the paper out of her sketchbook and handed it to me.
"Thanks. Maybe I'll frame it." I rolled the sketch up and put it into my pocket.
"Fuzzy's the cutest dog in the world," Gin said. Fuzz gave her a lick on the nose.
"Sometimes I think you hang out with me so you can play with Ole Fuzz."
"Don't fish, BB. I wouldn't ruin a good time with Fuzzy Buddy if I didn't like you. Does Fuzz know where we're going?"
I shook my head.
Gin was scratching Fuzzy Buddy under the chin, murmuring, "You cute thing. Best Dog in the World. Don't you think we should tell him, just to be fair?"
"No. I don't want him to get upset."
"Poor baby dog." Gin hugged Fuzz.
Gin took my backpack and put Fuzzy in it and we rode toward the back entrance of the park along a greenbelt area.
The greenbelt was a wild part of Bayside Park which curved through a canyon, the hillsides covered with lupines and golden poppies. The day was so still even the birds had quit singing.
"Wow, listen to that?"
"Yeah. Something is weird."
Then Fuzzy Buddy started whining.
"Maybe he has to go," I said.
Gin got off her bike, took off the backpack, and let Fuzzy out. He sniffed the ground, whined, pawed at Gin.
"What's wrong, boy?" I picked him up and petted his head.
"I'll bet he knows where we're going," Gin said, slipping the backpack on again.
"I don't know how he'd know."
Fuzzy Buddy jumped from my arms, pawed at the ground again, then ran circles around Gin and me, yapping like he does when he sees squirrels in the back yard, dashing back and forth, chasing things he can't catch.
"How long since you got him his shots?" Gin asked.
I was ready to argue with her when the ground started shaking. My knees wobbled and dust billowed up all around us. Fuzzy Buddy ran between my legs and I tried to balance myself, my arms flailing around like a broken propeller, my feet sliding on what had been solid ground a minute ago.
"Oh migosh, an earthquake!"
The shaking dumped Gin and me onto the ground. I could hear Fuzz whining, but through all the dust I couldn't see him.
"Fuzz, here, boy."
"I can't see him, BB."
I could hear Fuzz squealing and rocks grinding; my head was spinning.
A gigantic hole opened down the middle of the trail, right under our butts, flinging me sideways.
"Hang on!" I yelled, even though I didn't know what we were supposed to hang onto.
"Where's Fuzzy Buddy?" Gin yelled.
We started sliding into a crevasse, sliding down a slope that would have been a great ramp for a skateboard but was hard as concrete and scary as the most intense adventure movie. Because of the dust and dark I couldn't see a thing, and I was choking, coughing, trying to get a breath. Rocks smacked me like hail stones in a storm, and the ground swayed, flopping me from side to side. Gin was yelling for me, somewhere behind me, as I slid down the hole.
I hit a solid wall of rock and sat up in time for Gin to crash beside me. The place we'd landed was as dark as a locked closet.
"You okay?" I asked. My hands and knees ached, my braces had cut my upper lip, and I think I hit the back of my head on the wall, but I was alive and talking.
"I think I've got some scratches. I hope I didn't tear my tights."
Gin was worried about her tights? Geez.
"We need to get out of here."
We scrambled up the slope, but as we ran for the opening, a pile of boulders fell in and blocked the way. Gin and I flattened ourselves up against the wall.
"We're trapped," I said.
"Did Fuzzy Buddy fall in with us?" Gin asked.
"Fuzz. Fuzz, where are you?" I listened for my dog, hoping to hear him barking or whining. All I could hear was a deep groan as the earth settled itself.
"What if this hole closes up?"
"I know. Listen, did you hear something?" I thought I heard Fuzzy's tags jingling.
"That metallic noise?"
"Yeah. Fuzzy's down there." I pointed into the darkness.
"Well, we have to get him. It wouldn't be fair to leave him, poor little guy." Right then Gin's voice trembled.
Gin was right. But we had a disadvantage: we couldn't see in that dark, and we didn't know where we were going.
"I thought I saw sparks."
"That's not good news. What if it's a broken electric line of some sort."
"Let's go back."
"Fuzz! Fuzzy Buddy."
My words echoed from somewhere. I heard Fuzz's tags again, and I saw sparks.
"We have to keep going," I said.
"I know. But be careful."
"You don't have to remind me."
I had no idea if we we'd fallen into some sort of tunnel--that's what I guessed--or if we were walking along a ledge, or into a box canyon under the ground.
I turned around toward the way we'd come.
"Where are you going now?" Gin asked.
"Let's look one more time. I'm not sure I like those sparks."
We climbed up the boulders, into the dark.
"This isn't going to work," I said. As much as I didn't want to, we had to go the other way. Sparks or no sparks. " I picked up some stones and tossed them, listened as they rolled, and tried to figure out how we'd get down the slope. "We can go a ways then come back if we don't find him, okay?"
"Okay. But why come back?"
"Someone will be looking for us," I said.
"I don't know, BB. We're under the far side of the park, away from everyone, and who would know to look here? Rescuers will start searching through buildings, not out here. It might be days before someone would think to check out here."
"Maybe not. Maybe when we don't get home Mom will realize where we've gone. Maybe Myrtle will tell someone where you went. You did tell her, didn't you?"
"Yes, I told her. Let's go, BB."
We stood there, adjusting to the dark and the idea of being trapped.
I noticed a faint light in the direction where I'd heard the jangle of Fuzzy Buddy's tags and the rattle of the stones I'd tossed.
"Do you want to wait here while I look for Fuzz?"
"Are you nuts? We go together."
Gin and I held hands and walked down the slope, rocks rolling as we stepped on them, echoes booming through the cavern.
"Are you sure this is the right way?"
"No, but it's a better way than trying to dig through those boulders."
"How do you know? We're going downhill."
Gin was right about going downhill, but I could see light and light had to be outside.
"We're heading toward that light," I said.
"If I squint I can barely see it."
"Let's keep going."
The light ahead was dim and pale blue, like just before the stars come out at night. Gin and I couldn't see each other very well, but I could hear her breathing. Stumbling as I walked, I felt sleepy, wishing I were back in my house on my bed reading, if I still had a house. Who knew what had happened in the city?
Gin and I crept down the steep, curving path, the light and sparks always out of sight. I had a peculiar feeling that we were being lured somewhere, but that didn't make any sense.
"There, more sparks!"
"You know, if it is a broken electric line, someone will come to fix it. Maybe that's not all bad." I squeezed Gin's hand. "We have to hope."
The metallic clinking got louder and sounded more like someone hitting metal with a hammer than dog's tags. "You know what? That noise is too loud to be Fuzzy's tags."
"Yeah, I know. Someone else must be down here. Maybe we fell into a mine."
"I never heard of mines around here. They're all up north."
"BB, we've never heard of a lot of things, in case you didn't realize." Gin jerked her hand away from mine and if I could have seen her I'd have bet she propped her hand on her hip. "If we don't do something, we'll sit here and die."
"We keep walking, Gin, that's what we do."
The clinking got louder and the sparks flew higher as we turned a bend in the path.
"Oh migosh," Gin said.
"I think we've fallen into something besides the trail at the park."
"Yeah, a mine."
"Want to bet?"
"No. But I'm right. You wait and see."
In the light from the sparks, I could see that look on Gin's face. She wanted to kill me for challenging her. Right then I wanted to call 555 STAR; I needed to know the future now.
I didn't have long to wait. The next bend in the trail took Gin and me face to face with the source of the sparks.