Walter and Helen

Walter and Helen, the twins down the street, were so bored that they would sit in their driveway and stack rocks all afternoon. I couldn’t believe it. I would ride by on my bicycle, careful to stay at least three barking Benjamins away from the two of them, and ask if they wanted to walk along the railroad tracks with me, maybe go run around park. My dog, Benjamin, was never far behind, woofing like crazy and sniffing around the bushes for an old sandwich or something.

Of course, they said no. It’s like they wanted to be bored, sitting in the lazy sun and burping at each other. Who could live like that?

The other kids and I figured we’d use this time to explore the woods. School was closed. We spent all day outdoors, away from our frazzled parents. On the far end of our neighborhood, there were a bunch of good, knotted tree trunks and leafy back alleys to stake a day of adventures. Knights in the Castle. Zombie Invasion. That’s right: Kirby, Eleanor, Fat Willy, Bryan, RJ, Spud and I would play around in the woods for hours. Benjamin came too. Occasionally, we’d bring out rolls of foil from our moms’ cupboards and wrap ourselves in costume, pretending to be the hazmat officers who were hosing down our classrooms with white chemicals. Benjamin was the hazmat pooch, we called him. Walter and Helen just sat in their driveway like a sack of apples.

Then, one day, they stood up.

“Hey, Eddie! Hey!” they cried out in unison as I pedaled past. “Hey, Eddie!”

I hit the brakes and called Benjamin closer to me. “Well, what is it, Walter and Helen? You been out here long enough?”

“Naw, we’re gonna go get a watermelon and wrap rubber bands around it ‘til it pops.”

Well, now I really couldn’t believe it. I loosened my grip on the handlebars. “What?”

“Yeah yeah, we saw it on the computer.” They spoke as one. It was unsettling.

I looked around for Fat Willy, for Spud—anyone. Suddenly, the neighborhood was deserted. Where had everyone gone?

“We’re gonna go get a watermelon and wrap rubber bands around—”

“Yeah, all right, all right, I heard you. Whattaya mean ‘til it pops?”

“You put enough rubber bands around anything, Eddie, it’ll pop.”

I was sweating. In mid-April. “Well, all right, let’s see this. You guys better not have anything funny up your sleeve.” I glanced behind me once again—nope, not a soul on the street—and followed Walter and Helen into their weird garage around back of the house.

They even yanked open the door together. Inside, dull light filtered through never-washed windows. We walked into the drab darkness, Benjamin’s tail subsiding, Walter and Helen both reaching for the twine strung from a single bulb overhead. Click.

There it was: a plump watermelon just sitting on their dad’s workbench. A jumbled pile of rubber bands loomed in the immediate background, ready for the operation. I think I gasped.

Without a word, they set to work. Was I supposed to be involved somehow? Were they guessing I’d join them in this crime? I decided to sort of stand near the door and casually observe. Very soon, it seemed like they just forgot I was there, so absorbed were they by the surgical procedure.

Walter and Helen breathed audibly as they took turns yoking the watermelon with rubber bands. Finally! One thing they couldn’t do at the exact same time! A rotation of skills emerged: Walter snapped the band quickly from the top. Helen moved just a beat slower, strapping the melon with an almost maternal care. Her demented child in a stroller.

Something like an hour passed by. I’d started to doodle in the dust on the windowpanes, drawing little characters in bulky helmets, each gripping a great, elongated hose. I figured by now the gang was somewhere deep in the woods, playing at zombie hunters again, probably wondering where me and ol’ Benny had wandered off to. Or maybe they thought we went for ice cream, and they’d be biking past Walter and Helen’s to get over to the Dairy Freeze on Gabel Ave. Maybe, if I screamed loud enough, they’d hear me.

The twins kept at it, dutifully. They seemed robotic, but what else was new? I started assembling pails and moldy boxes, building a little hut for me and Benjamin to live in. He barked at small piles of dirt in the corner. I smoothed the edges of rumpled newspapers into a sort of area rug. When I glanced up, I noticed the watermelon was basically caving inward. I felt a pang of the unknown, an anxiety lurching around the next corner. If I really tuned my ears toward the melon, I swear I could hear it groaning.

And maybe Walter and Helen were even chanting at this point, it’s hard to remember. The next few seconds all happened in one great flash.

“Oh, boy! Eddie! Eddie, come look!” they suddenly shouted. I bonked my head on a ratty suitcase I’d fashioned into a table and looked over at them. Walter and Helen. The terrible, nose-drippy twins from down the street. What had I gotten myself into?

“Oh, boy! Eddie! It’s going to happen!” They ratcheted the assembly line, each one hurriedly following the other with another rubber band. Faster and faster. “Oh, boy!”

I tried to shield Benjamin, but he couldn’t look away either. He peered around my legs, horrified in a way I’d never seen a dog look before. Eyes like saucers, tail rigid.

Helen daintily placed the final rubber band, and that was it: ZZZSSSSPPLLAAATTT!!!! The thing just exploded out across the garage. Like one of those supernova videos they show in science class. It went in every direction—up, down, left, right, in my hair, on Helen’s blouse, on Walter’s suspenders, on Benjamin’s snout. My little hut in the corner crumbled under the barrage. I think a window broke.

After everything settled down, I realized we were covered head to toe in splattered melon. Richly textured globs and flea-sized seeds. We were soaked, totally drenched in chunks. I tried to catch my breath.

Silence.

Then the twins started chuckling.

“So, that’s it?” I asked, spitting out a fleshy mass. “But what was the point?”

They laughed so hard they started coughing.

“Is this the sort of thing you twins do when you’re not sitting like lumps in the driveway?” I couldn’t get through to them. “Come on, Benjamin. Let’s go meet up with the others.”

Walter and Helen gathered themselves and followed us, giggling.

We stumbled into the shiny afternoon light. I was flecked utterly with fruit bits and juice splotches. Benjamin was doused, his fur all sticky with summer sweetness. It seemed impossibly bright outside. Walter and Helen couldn’t stop laughing. They looked deranged.

I heard my friends yelling something, tearing down the street on their bikes. What luck! I could tell them how crazy the twins were acting, go take a shower real quick and be back in the woods with everyone in no time.

The gang suddenly steered into view, braking abruptly at the end of Walter and Helen’s dumb driveway. The twins shut up and sort of slumped onto the ground. I felt immediate relief. Back to normal, everybody!

Spud cried out first, his eyes frantic with sudden terror: “Holy crap! Zombie!”

The rest of them joined in: “Get ‘im! Aaaahhhhh!!!”

I threw my hands up. “No, no, no, you guys! It’s me! Me and Benny and those awful twins!” I looked around for them, those idiots.

“Kill the zombie!” “Zombie attack!” “This is it, everybody! Get ‘im!”

“No! It’s just watermelon!” They got off their bikes and walked toward us. I started backing up, yanking Benjamin by the collar. “We were just doing this stupid thing with rubber bands! I wasn’t even doing it!” I tripped over a painted cinder block, another mindless project of the industrious twins. My ankle seized in red pain.

Fat Willy had some sort of spiked stick in his hands and he was thwacking it against his thigh. Preparing the weapon. RJ was removing the chain from his bike. Eleanor was twirling her helmet like a primitive rock slung with rope. They looked battle-hardened, streaked with mud. Benjamin curled into my arms. I screamed out in horror: “But it’s just watermelon, you guys!”

Before the stick clocked me in the side of my head, I saw them, the twins, sitting like blameless cows over by the bushes. Covered in fruit and just staring at the grass, mumbling to themselves probably, bored forever.

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