N. Marshall Gibbs


"How'd I let myself get into this?" Will said as he shot a glance over at the faintly distinct shadows of his fellow wannabe’s. He noticed the unease on their faces as their hair flew about savagely in the wind whipped up by the speeding Dodge pickup they were riding in. Revealed to him, as it was, not by infrared optics or extrasensory perception, but by the scant light offered by the new rising moon, punctuated by the occasional snapshot of a passing headlight. They looked like ghosts, pale, cold, and unworldly, of an earth long gone or one unborn and yet to come.

"Do I look like that too?" he wondered, knowing that his own normal reflection of vibrant blue eyes set in average features under very short blonde hair all of which were perched atop a lean and lanky frame, certainly must. However much he dreaded this knowledge, he accepted the fact that he and his unusual companions were adrift in the same boat. A blood red, truck-bed vessel on a swift journey to a destination outside their ken, but hopefully still in Middle America, USA and not some underworld place dark and dank.

He shivered, not just from the chill, although there was that as they had been instructed to wear blue jeans and white T-shirts with white sox and workboots, and looked closely at the precious cargo that the initiates were trying to steady in the wildly careening truck. Each of the three had in their possession an over-sized flowerpot, containing a single, ornamental tree of the kind often found in offices, restaurants, or botanical gardens just about anywhere. Or the home of a retired, old man with no family to speak of who had lots of time to heap mounds of loving attention on these fragile greens transplanted from some fair climate far to the south.

They were the old man's children.

"Old Man?" the young man sneered, thinking, "Give the guy a break, can't you? He has a name, an identity. He's my neighbor and family friend, Mr. Potkoffolipki."

It was an eastern European name appropriate for an eastern European gentleman who, with the other three remaining members of his immediate family, had gotten caught up between the forces of good and evil. Caught up and squeezed in World War II ’s intervening years until the liberating allied armies had freed all that was left of his beloved family: him. The rest had been ground to dust at the hands of the ever-efficient Nazis.

"And how do I know this?" Will mused as a half-cynical smile warped his lips. "Not that anybody here would care to find out, but it's because I used my one, and seemingly only, God given gift. I listened."

The pickup's taillights flared, providing a momentary indication of the driver's intentions before the body and bed pitched nose to the ground. They fish tailed in a 90 degree slide off the two lane black top, careening wildly left and right until the big off road tires bit into the soft red dirt and kept the small Detroit behemoth hurtling forward in a semblance of order. It's lone driver, and the wannabe's in the bed floated down a closely bordered, tree lined track. The old growth woods blotted out the stars like a trip into a dark cave.

"Pretty smart of Rad to think of hiding these things on the Kingston Estate," Ralph said over the engine's roar. "Nobody will think to look here."

"Yeah!" Scott said, "That Rad is one smart dude."

"And cool too."


William listened to the exchange with ethereal disconnect. "How smart do you have to be to come up with the idea to hide a potted plant in some untracked woods?" he wondered.

The truck slowed drastically then approached a small deadfall tree that was lying diagonally across the road. The front end crawled over it easily. The truck accelerated and the rear end bumped over it hard. The cargo, human and otherwise, flew into the air, crashing down painfully on the rebound.

The driver could be heard laughing wildly as he pushed open the sliding glass window behind him. "You girls all right back there?"

"Right as rain, Rad," Scott said.


"No problem, Mr. President, Sir," Ralph said, grimacing and holding his back. Any sign of weakness and he would be through.

"Willie, you still with us?"

"I'm fine," Will said as he righted the tree under his care and frantically scooped dirt back into the pot to cover the roots.

"Do it again, Rad," Ralph said. „I like the air time."

"If we come across another dead fall, I'll give her a whirl, man, but I think that's it until we get there."

"Where are we going exactly?" Will asked. "We're already far enough in here that no one will see us. Can't we just put the trees along here anywhere, without them being found?"

"Patience, Willie, patience," Rad said in a maddeningly superior tone. "I've got a spot for them that's absolutely perfect. You'll see. You guys just hang tough, and we'll be there directly." He slammed the window closed, cranked the stereo fifty decibels louder to a painful thumping, and increased their velocity to a point where the truck started spending most of its time in the air and less and less on the ground.

The three boys in the bed held on for dear life.

"Why am I doing this?" Will said. "I don't hang with Ralph and Scott. I don't even particularly like Ralph and Scott. And I hate the name Willie so why do I do this then?"

"You know why," his subconscious answered him.


"For the cars..."

Will sighed, knowing the truth. He was hopelessly in love with custom automobiles and there was no other group in this town, anyway, that had anything to do with the kind of vehicles he was stuck on. It was the Dragons Car Club, or it was nothing, and it couldn't be nothing. It just couldn't. Not after he'd waited his whole life for this dream.

"What else?" his subconscious baited.


"Come on."

"Okay." Will shook his head in the dark and gave in. "The Dragonettes."

The female contingent to the Dragon’s Club were, by en large, the most incredible women, yes women not girls, and the cream of the high school crop year after year. Rad's girl of the moment, Gina Folitano, was a near perfect prototype. She of the long dark hair, dark eyes, and hour glass figure that defied gravity and drove those that saw her to wonder at the myriad laws of physics that her luscious physique disobeyed so flagrantly. Hot Rod cover girls had nothing on her. Especially when she was leaning up against the side of Rad's badass, metal flake white, 1969 Camaro SS.

"Hey, there's something up ahead," Scott said, interrupting Will’s mental inquisition.

"What?" Will asked, getting up in a crouch and looking over the top of the cab. The headlights illuminated the back of a dilapidated clapboard building.

"It's probably an abandoned barn," Ralph guessed. "There's supposed to be some neat stuff stashed away inside them. My brother says..."

"You're brother's a retard," Scott said.

"He's not a retard. You take that back," Ralph shouted and lunged for the other boy.

"Cut it out, you two," Will said. He separated them quickly as the truck slowed, and the headlights were doused. "I think we're here." The truck swung around in a slow wide circle to the left and stopped in darkness.

The engine died, plunging them all into sudden silence, then the cab door opened, and Rad got out, slamming the door closed behind him. "We're here, girls. Get down and bring your offerings."

"Offerings?" Ralph asked, "I didn't bring any money for the plate."

"The trees, Ralph!" Will said. "He means the trees."

"Oh, right." Ralph jumped down to join the other two who had scrambled over the side of the truck at the first invitation.

Straight away, they got to work, opening the tailgate. Scott fumbled at the near latch. Will finished the other and climbed back into the truck bed to gently manhandle the pots down to his fellow initiates one by one.

"Tonight, girls, tonight!" Rad barked, "While we're still young, please!"

Each of the initiates grabbed their respective pot and lugged it around to stand in front of him.

"You ready?" Rad asked.

"Yes," they replied in unison without hesitation.

"Good! Then I say: LET THERE BE LIGHT!" Rad shouted with authority.

Brilliantly dazzling, blinding bright light surrounded them as six sets of headlights went on the instant his declaration was finished. Arranged in a large semi-circle, the heavily customized vehicles were arrayed like a pack of wolves waiting on the edge of a man's campfire. Their eyes focused and concentrated on their prey at the center. The center being a bright yellow, industrial-strength wood-chipper like the kind road-crews use. The stillness was rent as their motors started in a low rumbling growl that settled into idle.

Rad, his face a mask of eclipsing shadow, about faced and strutted to stand in front of the wood beast; a disjointed and off camber assembly of rectangles, triangles, and cylinders. The massive chute pointed skyward like a vintage German, "Fur de Kaiser", big gun.

The blatant rumble of the hot exhaust from the assembled motors grew in pulsing volume to an angry growl as the drivers blipped their gas pedals rhythmically.

Rad jumped up on the low frame of the chipper in front of them, threw his hands in the air, and twirled his fingers to maestro the noisy roar. He drew it out farther and farther into wild abandon, until it seemed that the whole world was nothing but throaty engines, roaring and breathing, roaring and breathing, alive, waiting for the humans, they could so easily consume, to come closer; within their grasp.

Rad hurled himself into the air, cutting the noise off in a single flagrant gesture like a rock guitarist ending a particularly energetic song.

Silence reigned instantly as the powerful engines died in unison. Punctuated by a single gunshot sound as one of them backfired.

"Wow!" Ralph gasped.

"Yeah!" Scott's face was a study in ecstasy.

Will looked at the chipper in front of them with sinking dread.

"Dragon Pledges, let me present your Dragonettes!" Rad pulled his arm back to include the single file of nubile young women coming toward them..

Will saw Gina Folitano lead the three prettiest freshmen, from the darkness into the overly lit arena like lambs to the slaughter. She arranged them on the far side of the chipper, in a line, facing the pick up; with their faces in shadow. She then inspected her charges one last time before her shapely legs, beneath the short white skirt, she wore so well, propelled her around to stand to the left of the Dragon president.

"Ready?" Rad asked her quietly out of the side of his mouth.

She hesitated and nodded once quickly.

Rad turned and approached the controls of the powerful tree-chipper.

"You said we were only going to take the trees and hide them here," Will said, shattering the silence.

Rad half turned as he pulled out the choke and adjusted the hand throttle linkage. "Without sacrifice there is no pain. Without pain there is no gain."

"But you promised we would return the trees in a week unharmed," Will said.

"I changed my mind." Rad said, shrugging.

Will balled up his fists and set his jaw, proclaiming: "I won't let you! I won't let you do it."

Gina flinched.

Rad stiffened.

Scott and Ralph move away slightly.

"He didn't mean it, Rad," Gina spoke softly, raising her hand as though to touch and calm the Dragon’s president but not daring to be so bold.

"Yes, he did," Rad said and turned to face the new guys.

"I won't let you," Will said. „It’s not right!"

Rad ignored him. "Gentlemen, when I rev this chipper up to cruising speed, I want you, one at a time, to pull your little tree from it's pot and toss it root first into this loading bin where the blades are spinning." He motioned to the receiving end --the square end farthest away from the elevated exhaust chute.

"NO!" Will exclaimed, „Don’t do it!"

"After that you may pass over to chose the new Dragonette you wish to party serious with tonight. They're all prepped and cruise ready. The pecking order will be Willie, Scott, and Ralph."

He smiled in a knowing way. "I hope you all came prepared."

Scott elbowed Ralph and grinned. „O’ boy, he means rubbers. I got me a whole pack."

"How come Will and Scott get to go first?" Ralph asked.

"Because I said so, Ralph! Any objections?"

Ralph hastily shook his head, "No!"

"Any other stupid questions?" asked Rad.

"You can't do this. These trees don't belong to us. They belong to Mr. Potkoffolipki," Will said.

"You should have thought of that before you helped us steal them." Rad turned around and raised his hand to the ignition key.

Will rushed forward and grabbed at his arm to stop him.

The older boy spun with the pull and delivered a flat-handed blow, half shove and half punch, that sent Will flying. He landed flat on his back. Dirtied but unhurt, he scrambled up quickly.

Gina looked frightened.

Rad was keeping his eye on Will as he reached around and turned the ignition key. Black smoke belched from the exhaust stack in a mushroom plume as the chipper roared to life. It’s exhaust note pogoed with the engine governor, as it idled roughly. The operator adjusted the choke and throttle to keep it from stalling.

Will sprang at Rad again.

"Don't!" Gina cried, jumping in to stop him, "He'll kill you."

Rad turned around and saw what was going on behind him, realized at once what it was, and glared. His lips pulled back away from his teeth in an involuntary snarl that exposed his teeth and gums. He radiated menacing power. His fists clenched and relaxed clenched and relaxed as if he was pumping himself into destructive frenzy.

Will wanted to back away; wanted, in fact, to turn and run, but couldn't, not as long as the ornamental trees were in jeopardy. He turned around and faced the other two boys. "You can't do what he says. These trees mean too much to Mr. Potkoffolipki. They're his family."

"Family?" Scott sniffed. "What in the Hell are you talking about?"

"He lost his family during the war. He was in a concentration camp. He keeps the trees as a memorial to the daughters he lost."

"Instead of kids, the old man had trees," Ralph offered.

"Yeah, his wife was a Birch," Scott said.

"No, a Beech!" Ralph countered.

The two of them laughed raucously.

Rad smiled at the joke as he obviously fought to regain a semblance of personal control and lowered the handle to engage the chipper blades. They revolved slowly, gathering themselves into a silver blur. Their song was a low pitch whine.

Will noticed Gina remained unfazed by their strange humor.

"Ready?" Rad addressed Scott.

Scott reached down and ripped the four-foot ficus from the pot at his feet. The bared roots dripped near black potting soil. "Ready!"

Will grabbed onto the trunk of the tree and started a tug of war for it.

"Let go!" Rad came over to pull him off.

Will was wild, out of control, beside himself with concern for Mr. Potkoffolipki’s property. He let go suddenly and swung at this new antagonist, without thinking. His blow connected on the older boy's nose, drawing blood. The sight of which brought him back to the reality of his situation.

Rad backed up a step or two and touched his nose. His fingers came away from his face dripping red.

"Rad," Gina said softly as she encircled his elbow with her hand. "He didn't mean it. He's upset. Forget the trees. It's enough that the other two were willing."

The Dragon president shook her off. His chest was heaving, his face red, and he was clearly mad and not going to listen to any excuses. He was on automatic.

Will backed away, shaking his head. "You can't have them."

"Put up your dukes, Wimp!" Rad commanded as he advanced.

"Put up your dukes and defend yourself."

"Come on, Will, fight him," Scott shouted.

"Yeah, fight," Ralph agreed. He obviously wanted to see some real blood.

Will sensed more than saw the car doors opening on the vehicles forming the ring. The established club members would back their president. The show was no longer a drive-in type of affair, becoming, instead, a potential heavy hitting, participant melee, and he was to be the victim. He was sure he was going to be dog meat, but he couldn't let the trees go. It wasn’t right. He brought up his hands like he’d seen the prize fighters do on television.

Rad flicked a jab out that rocked Will's head back. Blood oozed from the new cut above his eye.

Will stepped forward toward Rad and threw a roundhouse hook that connected with air.

Rad threw another jab and followed it immediately by a blow to Will’s body and an upper cut to his jaw.

Will literally left his feet from the force of this last blow. He arrived, back on the ground, stretched out flat. He lay still where he landed, without moving. The world was spinning madly, and he couldn’t focus on any one thing.

"Is he dead?" Scott asked, astonished.

"No, look he's still breathing." Ralph pointed to Will's rising and falling rib cage..

Rad backed away. "He had it comin'."

Gina hurried over and knelt down to see how badly Will was injured. She shook her head at the swollen eye and bruised chin. She turned to look at Rad with an accusing stare. „You could have killed him."

"He had it comin'," Rad protested.

"They always have it coming."

"You taking his part over mine?"

"No, I just think you should have told him what you were really going to do to those trees," Gina said.

"He wouldn't have done it, if I had told him," Rad said.

"That may be, but you should have told him."

Rad looked around for support. His brother Dragon's had made the immediate scene and were milling around in general confusion. "You saw it. He balked. He hit me. He had it comin'."

"No question," a one eyed veteran with a growing beer gut agreed. "Touch the Prez and pay the price."

There was a murmur of assent all the way around.

"Forget him, man," another said. „Let's get this initiation thing over with and go party. The keg's getting warm and time’s a wastin'."

Rad looked about and saw nodding heads all around. "All right, back to your rides. Ralph and Scott will do their duty and then we can split."

A willing hand from one of the Dragon’s pulled the throttle on the chipper to its stop and tightened the throat nut to keep it open. The motor howled and was near deafening. The blades moaned like a devouring fiend; a wood product’s nightmare come to life.

Rad motioned for Scott to go ahead.

Scott approached the wide-open maw and shoved the small tree in roots first, like he'd been told. He did so tentatively, unsure of the proper technique and for his trouble got his hand ravaged as the chipper yanked the slender trunk away from him and feasted on the soft bit of growth. Cutting and mashing it up completely until what was left was shot out the other end in a fine spray of chips.

Rad clapped Scott on the back and passed him forward to make his selection of the new Dragonettes.

He motioned for Ralph to take his turn.

Ralph yanked his tree out easily. He learned from his predecessor's error and threw it into the open mawe like a javelin.

The machine was obliged to rain more chips out the other end.

Ralph passed into the ranks of Dragon membership.

Rad looked around for the remaining tree to complete the job.

Gina stood in front of it defiantly.

"Give it up, baby!" Rad shouted over the roar of the destroyer.

"You've had your fun. This one is Will's. He fought for it. You're not going to throw it in," Gina said.

"You know what will happen to you, if you cross me on this, don't you?" Rad asked.

"So, I'm out," she said and shrugged out of her red Dragonette jacket to throw it at him. "Here, it's time for me to grow up and move on anyway." The jacket fell in a heap at his feet.

Rad's features hardened. He reached down and picked up the women’s version of their colors, looked at her name stitched neatly on the front above the breast pocket and then at her, and tossed it into the chipper.

The machine was material blind. It sucked the fabric in and spewed out the chopped up remainder as its finished product.

He made to reach for the little tree she protected.

"No, you can't have it." She went to push him away.

He grabbed her arm and manhandled her painfully to the ground. "I'll take what I please when I please and there's nothing you can do to stop me."

The chipper motor died at that instant, leaving a complete vacuum of sound -- silence. Will had pulled the ignition keys from the machine. He hurled them away into the woods as far as he could. "There," he shouted in triumph. "At least I saved one of them."

"You dope," Rad said, coming over to yank the tiny tree from its pot. "This is a car club." He pushed Will out of the way and chucked the tiny bit of green root first into the big chipper intake. "I can hot wire this thing in a New York minute." He undid the latches and flipped up the engine cowling to start in to do just that.

Will exchanged looks with the now rising Gina.

He darted forward, grabbed the tree, and ran.

"Hey!" Rad exclaimed.

"Run, Will. Run!" Gina shouted, jumping up and down and and clapping her hands.

"After him," Rad ordered.

Scott, Ralph, and the others Dragons joined in to give chase.

Will raced into the forest dark, pounding down the road for all he was worth, like the fiends of hell were on his heels.

"HEY YOU KIDS!" barked a shouted voice of authority with a flashlight shining, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH OUR EQUIPMENT!"

Rad and the others stopped short at the outsider's call. "Back to the cars, guys!" he ordered. "Before they call the cops."

The pickup truck used to haul the three initiates sped through their disarray, going the other way down the dirt track, making them scatter. Its oversized tires rolled through the pot holes and sand washes like a HumVee. The powerful engine snarled.

Will veered off into the woods, before he was captured by the headlights. He spun around to face the danger, holding the little tree out in front of him like a good luck talisman, to ward off evil. He watched the headlights play through the trees above his head and dropped to hug the ground, praying that who ever was at the controls hadn't seen him.

The truck passed by, slowing. The brakes squealing slightly as the taillights glowed brighter. It stopped. The driver side door opened.

Will had seen enough; got up all at once and darted off deeper into the woods. He never heard Gina call his name over the sound of whipping branches as he clawed his way farther into the interior of the forest undergrowth. In any event no one pursued, and by the time he stopped, there wasn't a single movement in the woods that was not native to the local and the night.

A small stream gurgled near by.

The young man followed his ears and eventually stumbled down a short embankment, ending up face down near the wet. From the minimal starlight, he could see the clear trickle of water tumbling slowly down through the uncovered rocks. He crawled over and stuck his hand in, splashing it up over his face, head, and neck. He winced as his swollen eye encountered the coolness. His aching jaw concurred.

He stuck the uncovered roots of the tree he held in his hand into the water beside him and went back to refreshing himself. While doing so a seed of an idea on how to proceed through this nightmare germinated. He stripped off his white T-shirt and got down to business.

Later, following the meandering stream for what seemed like miles, a well, mosquito feasted on Will made it to the black top, turned left, and, following the white line along the edge of the road, headed toward town and home. An hour and a half, or so he thought, had passed since he’d entered the woods, but the reality was much shorter by a third.

His companion, the tree, roots moist and happy in wet sand from the stream bed, rode nestled in the makeshift sack that was slung over his shoulder. By trial and error, he'd made the crude but serviceable affair out of his T-shirt. A fact that he would have been more proud of, if it weren't for the off camber circumstances of the container's creation.

Every ten steps or so, he would restart the conversation, in his head, that he anticipated he was going to have to have with his neighbor and friend, Mr. Potkoffolipki.

"At least, he used to be my friend," Will thought sadly, plodding along in his water logged, high top workboots and filthy blue jeans.

So busy was he on this dilemma, that he didn't realize there was a car coming up behind him until it was too late to dart back off the road and avoid it's lights. He kept walking, hoping that who ever was driving would not think to stop. He wasn't in the mood to answer any questions right now.

The vehicle ignored his wishes and slowed, pulling up along side him. Matching his speed, the shiny blue, 1966 Chevy pickup idled along with valve heads tapping.

He kept looking straight ahead, walking.

"You did a brave t'ink, tonight," came a familiar voice from inside the cab. "Foolish but brave."

Will stopped; turned to face Mr. Potkoffolipki, the wizened but hardy old man driving. He approached the vehicle with trepidation and looked through the lowered window on the passenger side. "How did you know I'd be out here?"

"That nice younk girl, Gina, stopped by house. She concerned what might happen to you, if I call police," Mr. Potkoffolipki said.

"Did you?" asked Will.

"No." Mr. Potkoffolipki shook his head.

"Why not?"

"Because I know trees with you; safe with you."

The boy frowned. "I don't understand."

"Come," the old man said and reached over to unlock and open the passenger door. "We talk on way home."

Will certainly wasn't looking forward to a long walk back to town in the dark. He hesitated a moment, bowed his head to the inevitable, and then complied, sticking the plant in first to hold between his legs on the floor. Settling himself, he pulled the door closed with a heavy, clunk!

Mr. Potkoffolipki got the old truck under way and, running through each gear in turn, slowly brought them up to 5 miles per hour below the posted speed limit.

"I know this doesn't count for much; you must hate me, and I wouldn't blame you if you do, but it wasn't supposed to end up like this. It was just supposed to be a silly prank. We were just supposed to hide them for a week. Then they told me they'd be brought back unharmed. But they were really meaning to destroy them all along and now all that's left is this one. The other's got ground up in a chipper. I'm really sorry. I knew it was wrong to take your trees," Will confessed, "But I wanted to get into the Dragons too."

Mr. Potkoffolipki shook his head. "Will, you not understand. We build t'inks together, eh? We neighbors, eh? You know what trees are to me. You understand, yes?"


"Then you will also understand when I say I have enjoyed your comink over to ask me to help with go-karts and tiny bikes."

"Mini-bikes," Will corrected.

"Yes, thanks, mini-bikes," Mr. Potkoffolipki followed. "I enjoy workink these t'inks. I enjoy showink how to work metals, brazink and weldink, yes?"


"Over time we become friends. Maybe a little bit family also, yes?"

Will smiled. "Yes."

"Is good to see smile," the old man said, nodding his head and meaning it. "Is good you not get hurt, safe too."

"This is Tanya, I think." Will lifted his gerri-rigged sling from the floor between his feet. "She's lost some leaves, maybe, and the roots were exposed for a little while, but I think with a new pot and some really good potting soil she could be okay."

Mr. Potkoffolipki twisted the switch on the dash for the truck cab, dome bulb. "Yes, that is Tanya," he said, slowing the car and glancing at the tree in question, "I t'ink you right." He turned off the light, plunging them back into darkness.

"It was all that I could save." Will felt dumb repeating himself.

"Tanya's pot gettink small for her anyway. Maybe, disguised blessink that she lost her old one," Mr. Potkoffolipki said, reaching over to tousle Will's disheveled head good-naturedly. "Besides, foolishness with trees must end sometime, eh? Better live now in present then in past, yes?"

"Yes!" Will smiled again and sniffed.

"Better before more time go by. I not younk anymore, eh?" Mr. Potkoffolipki said.

The young man nodded.

"You come my house get cleaned up before parents see. We talk about new truck I gettink and you tell about girl, Gina."

"What new truck?" asked Will.

"New one that replace this one I give you to turn into best, uh, what is word," Mr. Potkoffolipki said as he screwed up his features searching in his head, "Ride? Yes, ride, I sure. Best ride in town."

Will was stunned. The truck was a well-used classic in very good condition. "But why?"

"Because tonight I relearn lesson from long ago," Mr. Potkoffolipki said, thinking out loud for a moment. "I relearn important t'ink. Important t'ink people. Not t'inks. Important t'ink friends. Not tree. Important t'ink what in heart? Not what on back of jacket, eh?"

Will remained silent and digested what the older man was saying.

"Important t'ink livink. Difficult, yes, hard, yes, but important t'ink livink present time. Remember past, sure, but livink there no good. No good anybody, yes?"

Will nodded his head as he saw clearly what the old man was getting at. He turned his head away and wiped his eyes so Mr. Potkoffolipki wouldn’t see.

"Good. Now tell me about girl, Gina. You ask her out, yes?" asked Mr. Potkoffolipki.

"She's a senior," Will protested, shaking his head at the absurdity of the suggestion. "Seniors don't go out with sophomores."

"Only two year between."

"It doesn't work that way in high school."

"Pish!" Mr. Potkoffolipki waved it away. "Two year somet'ink now, will be later not'ink."

"I don't know."

"Nice girl. I t’ink she t’ink you very brave. Maybe like you more than you know. You t'ink about it, eh?"

"I will," Will said.

"Now what color we paint truck? What you t'ink of yellow?" Mr. Potkoffolipki teased.

"Not much," Will followed quickly. "Bananas and lemons are yellow."

"Yes, is true. White, maybe?"

"Rad's car is white. I don't want to be anything like him anymore."

Mr. Potkoffolipki looked relieved. "Yes, is good."

"How about black with wicked red flames coming back up from the front and around a hood scoop? We can get cool mags and wide tires and side pipes and- and-"

"Ha ha ha," the old man laughed. "You want mother have heart attack. Flames on truck make think flamink truck. No!" he shook his head, "Flames no good."

"Well, then, how about blue flames. They’re cool."

„Blue famink truck make mother think cookink with gas. That no good."

At that moment Will had an inspiration so profound and in such strength that it gave him goose pimples from his head to his toes. „How about we paint the truck black like I said before, but instead of a radical hood scoop we leave the hood flat, and on it we paint a mural. The picture will have a deep dark forest with big scary trees in the back round. A small clearing in the foreground lit by a single, bright ray of sunshine, with a clear babbling brook running through it. Beside a bend in the brook, three small trees like Tanya’s ficus," Will said with a far away look in his eye. He turned slowly to look at Mr. Potkoffolipki, beaming. „That would be cool, wouldn’t it, how about that? Can we build it that way?"

Mr. Potkoffolipki didn’t answer immediately. Instead, he pulled a worn red bandana from his pants pocket and slowly mopped his brimming eyes and blew his nose. He nodded his head, finally, and was quiet for a moment more before answering with difficulty: „Yes," he said and cleared his throat, „That be good. I would like help build that."