The Living Wood

Their father was unexpectedly stern.

“Absolutely no trouble-making in this house, boys!” he declared, “I know that Grandpa’s house is big and that you’re anxious to explore it all, but remember that we are only here temporarily until the house is sold.  Some people who want to buy it are coming tomorrow to sign the papers, so everything must be kept in order.  Have I made my self clear?” “Yes sir,” said Chip and Seth in chorus.

Chip recalled his discovery a day earlier.  He and his younger brother had found an old chest of their grandfather’s.  While sifting through it, Chip came upon an old brass key wrapped in paper.  On the paper was written “Key of Wonders”.  Intrigued, Chip asked his father what it was.

“Your grandfather was imaginative.  I would think it probably was one of his crazy ideas as a boy,” Father suggested.

Curious, Chip placed the key in his pants pocket. 

Seth, being hungry all the time for an adventure, got excited about this too.  “Let’s go and find out what the key opens.  Maybe we’ll find some hidden treasure,” Seth suggested eagerly.

Chip rolled his eyes, “Don’t be ridiculous.  It probably unlocks a dusty closet somewhere.”

The boys started experimenting in the nearest room, the kitchen.  Spying a door in the far corner, they were thrilled to discover a black iron spiral staircase.  Creeping up the twisting steps, the explorers caught sight of a narrow door at the top.  Chip reached the door first and hesitated.

“Hey!  What’s the hold up?  Stop worrying about spiders biting you and keep going,” goaded Seth.

“Don’t rush me.  It’s dark and I can’t find a light switch,” Chip said.

Chip grasped the doorknob and swung the door open.  He cautiously peeked inside.

“Well?  Whadda ya see?” Seth asked.

“It’s a big room.  Come on.” said Chip as he walked in.

The room looked like a small skating rink with a high slanted ceiling and a glassy-smooth wood floor.  A long flat wall paneled in wood was on their right.  There were no windows.

Chip thought it was creepy and wanted to leave. “Oh well. Nothing here I guess.”

Seth barged past his older brother. “What?  You’re crazy.  This is too cool!  We can have a fort or secret base here!”

“That’s dumb.  There’s nothing here but four bare corners and a floor.  What can you do with THAT?” Chip argued.

Seth took his sandals off and ran across the shiny floor, trying to slide like a skater.  Chip shrugged his shoulders and joined the fun.  The boys collided in the middle of the floor laughing.  Glancing up at the wall, Chip noticed something.

“Hey.  What’s that?”

 “It looks like… something carved into the wall,” Seth said.

The boys walked up for a closer look.  Etched in the wood was a four-foot long black automobile with a tall square top, a fancy silver grill on the front, and four spoke tires as big as CD’s. 

“It looks real,” Chip said as he poked at the car door with his index finger.

To their surprise, the pressure of Chip’s finger caused the door to push into the wall. They heard a “twick” like a clock’s hand snapping forward.  The door then slowly popped opened.  The swinging door seemed so realistic that Chip half expected a person to step out of the car.  Instead, a black metal lever emerged from the car with a tiny brass knob on the end of it.  The lever poked out of the wall by just a couple of inches and stopped with a gentle klink.

“Whoa!” exclaimed the boys.

“Look!  One of the wheels on the car is spinning!” exclaimed Seth.

“Let’s see if anything else can happen,” Chip said.

Chip pulled the metal knob.  The lever sunk back in to the wall and the car door swung closed.  The wheel that had been turning stopped.

“You’ve done something wrong,” said Seth, “Try it again.”

Chip pushed on the door once more and the lever reappeared.  This time, he grasped the lever and turned the knob clockwise.  Suddenly, a deep grinding of metal sounded behind the wall. 

“CLANG! WHUMP! VROOMP!” went the invisible machinery.

“What did you do you looney?” panicked Seth, “Maybe you just shut all the power off in the house.  Now we’ll be in big trouble!  Dad will ground us for the rest of our lives!”

“All I did was turn that stupid knob,” Chip responded.

The grinding suddenly stopped and the boys could hear a gentle release of air somewhere behind the wall.  To their left, a thin piece of wood slid silently out from the wall.  Two of the four wheels on the car were now turning.  The brothers stared in silent amazement.

“What is this?” Seth wondered.

“It’s some kind of puzzle,” Chip guessed.

Chip continued to experiment, pushing other parts of the car.  His efforts paid off as the grill on the front of the car slid to one side and a second lever protruded outward like the first one.  Chip let Seth turn it this time.

“WHUMP! WHUMP! JRRING! BUMP!” went the strange mechanics.

A second slat of wood pushed out from the wall right next to the first one.  Three of the car’s wheels were now turning.

 “This is so freaky.  What should we do now?” urged Seth.

“What about those pieces of wood sticking out of the wall?  All of this must mean SOMETHING,” Chip urged.

“I know!” Seth said in a fit of discovery.

Chip looked on doubtfully as Seth gripped the wooden handles and pulled upward.  Nothing moved.  He tried lifting it again harder.  With a sudden clank, the whole section of the wall in front of Seth slid upward like a garage door.  Amazed, Chip stooped down at the opening Seth had created.

As Seth held the door handles, Chip peeked through the small opening, “There’s something inside there!  Keep lifting it!”

Seth heaved again, but the door wouldn’t open any further.

“What’s in there?” Seth asked.

“It’s a..a..it’s a CAR!” Chip exclaimed.

Seth peered in.  “Look how big it is!  Cool!” said Seth. 

“There’s a seat.  One of us could ride inside it.  It’s on a track of some kind,” Chip gushed.

“Let’s get it out and see if it rolls,” Seth said.

Pulling hard on the car for several minutes, the boys grunted and groaned, but it wouldn’t budge.  It was as if their prize was bolted to the floor.

“Why won’t it move?” Chip grimaced.

“I don’t know.  It’s stuck somehow,” Seth said.

“Something else has to be done to unlock it,” Chip suggested.

Chip examined the second lever in the wall.  He twisted the knob on it.  This time, the top popped open like a bottle cap, revealing a push button. 

“I think I found the next clue.” Chip gleamed.

Once again, the familiar heavy clinking of metal began.  The boys noticed that another slat of wood was pushing outward about a foot away from the first one. 

“Come on!  Let’s see if that did anything.”  Seth said.

The boys gripped the wooden handles and pulled upward.  To their delight, the door slid up until the bottom edge was up to their waists.  They heard a “CLUNK” and the door locked in place. 

The boys tried again to remove the car, but it remained fixed as a stone statue.

 “It’s no use.  We can’t get this free,” lamented Seth.

”Let’s tell Dad,” Chip suggested, “He might be able to help us with this.”

“No way!  Dad might tell us to stay away and then we’ll never find out how it works,” Seth said.

“Maybe, but I don’t know what else to do.  Dad can probably help,” Chip said.

Seth relented.  Chip closed the compartment door and turned the knobs until the wall and its wonders were as they had found them.  The boys ran back downstairs and found their father reading a newspaper.

“Dad!  You gotta come with us now.  We found something in the attic!” exclaimed Seth.

With a concerned look on his face, their father followed the boys back up to the attic.  Chip showed him the wall, activating its hidden levers, spinning tires, and the car concealed behind a sliding door. 

“Dad, what can we do to get this car out?  We think that we can ride it, but it’s stuck,” said Chip.

Their father, surprised by the discovery, tugged at his chin for a moment as he examined the wall.

“Did you notice the wheels of the car?  You only have three of them spinning at this point.  What about the fourth wheel?  It looks like it should be spinning too?  If you figure out how to get that one to move, maybe the car will unlock itself,” Dad suggested.

Seth stared at the wall in confusion while Chip took a closer look at the fourth wheel. 

Could this be what it’s for?” he wondered.

Chip reached into his pocket and pulled out his Grandfather’s “Key of Wonders”.  He had almost forgotten that it was there.

“What are you going to do?” Seth asked anxiously, sensing his brother’s hunch.

Chip looked at the frozen fourth wheel and simply pushed on it like he had with the car door.  The boys felt a chill of excitement as the wheel slowly popped out of the wall. 

“Yess!” the boys yelled at once.

Chip played with the wheel and was able to pop it open like a bottle cap.  Instead of a button inside like the second lever had, there was a keyhole.  Chip grinned like a cat that had just found the fish bowl.  Inserting the key, he tried turning the lock counter-clockwise.  There was a distinct “CLICK” followed immediately by the start of moving gears within the wall. 

“CLANG! FLUMP! BANG! WHUMP!” went the machinery once more. 

Seth exclaimed, “Look! Look! The floor!”

Sections of the floor were lifting up slowly above the surface and then flipped over like giant pancakes.  The underside of the floor looked like a dinosaur’s horn.  Once the new surface was upright, it lowered back down in place to become the part of the floor that had changed.  More areas of the floor moved in the same way until it became apparent that a large oval track with high steep turns was taking form. 

Just as the floor finished its transformation, Seth screamed, “The car! The car!  Look!”

Within the compartment, the car had spun ninety degrees to face forward and then rolled quietly out and over to the edge of the track.  Chip noticed his father with a wide grin on his face.

“Dad, Did you know that Grandfather built this?” Chip asked.

“Son, I had no idea, but I’m not surprised that he could make something like this. He was a great craftsman you know,” his Father said.

The boys eagerly pushed the car on to the track.  Seth discovered that by turning the steering wheel, a heavy spring underneath coiled tightly and caused the rear wheels to spin.  The boys were amazed at how fast the car could speed up and go around the track.  After a few dizzying laps, the spring’s power was spent and the car slowed to a stop.  Chip let Seth try it out.

Chip’s father was looking hard at the key, “Son, did you see this writing?”

Chip noticed a tiny line of words along the narrow shaft of the key that said:

Now go build a better mouse trap

Puzzled, Chip asked, “What does this mean?” 

“I think it means that we won’t be selling the house,” his Father smiled.

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