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Chapter One: In Too Deep
Being buried alive is no fun. No fun at all.
Let me set the scene:
A waterfall of corn was raining down on me. The grains felt like millions of BBs as they bounced off my head.
A mountain of grain was rising like sand dunes all around me. It was at least ten feet deep. It had the consistency of quicksand. I was sunk into it almost up to my knees, and it was trying really hard to suck me down.
Meanwhile, the falling grain was sending up a billowing cloud of dust. I was totally choking on it.
It was mostly dark inside this grain bin, except for a distant square of light high above that threw faint shadows here and there. Corn was pouring through the hole coming through the conveyor belt that a certain bad guy named Bill Pressman had started.
His intention? To kill me and Frank.
Why? That's a long story. But right now we were in trouble.
I could just make out my brother Frank. He was about twenty feet away from me, but it might as well have been twenty miles. He was well out of reach, and buried even deeper than I was.
"Joe!" I heard him yell over the roar. "Where are you?"
"Over h-here!" I shouted back, choking on the dust. "We've got to do something!"
"No, duh. Ya think?"
"Okay, genius," I said. "What's your brilliant plan?"
And, as usual, Frank had one. Over the years, I've come to count on his uncanny ability to pull impossible schemes right out of his ear.
"Joe, you've got to get out of here and shut off the conveyor!"
Uh, hel-lo. Anyone see me stuck in a pile of corn?
"I'm up to my knees in corn, bro," I said. "How am I supposed to do that?"
"Hey, I'm up to my chest! Just figure out a way you've got to get over to that ladder...up there on the wall."
"Are you kidding me? I can hardly move "
"J-Joe," he gasped, "I feel like I'm gonna be c-crushed if it gets much higher...It's...gonna have to be you."
I could tell he wasn't joking now.
Desperately, I tried to wiggle free. I swung my body back and forth. When I had a little play, I shifted my weight to my right leg, which was on the low side of the corn pile, and twisted myself loose.
Then I rolled over, so I was lying with my back against the ever-shifting mountain. That way I could do things like breathe and see.
All right, so it wasn't so hard.
Meanwhile, the corn kept raining down, adding to the pile. The dust made it hard to see anything.
"Okay," I shouted. "Now what?"
"Shine your flashlight on me."
I pulled out my light wand sort of a combination laser cutter and flashlight and pointed it at him.
I could make out Frank now. He was holding up a pretty sweet gadget of his own.
"Use this grapple line," he said. "Catch!"
He tossed it to me. Luckily, I didn't miss it. It would have been buried under the corn for sure.
By this time I'd gotten Frank's intention. I aimed his gizmo at the ladder and fired.
The strong nylon line shot out and wound itself around one of the rungs of the wooden ladder. The hook at the end of the grapple dug into the wood.
I pressed another button on the handy-dandy contraption, and it reeled itself back in, drawing me forward. I was pulled up the slippery slope, gliding with ease. Before I knew it, I was on the ladder, climbing free of the death trap that still held my brother.
I kept climbing until I got to the door in the wall. The door was locked, of course from the outside.
These guys thought of everything.
"I'll just use my laser cutter," I said, pocketing the grapple line and pulling out my other gadget.
"No!" Frank screamed. "Joe, grain dust is highly flammable explosive, even! You'll blow us both to smithereens!"
"Hmmm," I said, stuffing it back in my pocket. "All righty, then. No lasers."
I tried brute strength instead.
Luckily, the lock was old and rusty, and it popped after five or six solid hits from my well-developed shoulder.
"Yes! Hang in there, Frank I'll just be a second."
I scrambled down the ladder attached to the outside of the grain bin. As soon as I hit the ground, I hustled over to the switch that shuts off the conveyor belt. The machinery ground to a halt.
I was surrounded by an eerie silence, broken only by the sound of my own heart pounding.
Luckily, Farmer Pressman seemed to be nowhere in sight. I realized with a sharp pang that he was probably gone for good, escaping justice in spite of all we'd done to catch him.
But there was no time to think about that now I had to help Frank. I just hoped he was still breathing.
Along the side of the grain bin, I spotted a strange-looking yet familiar device. I recognized it from a newspaper article I'd read the week before. It was one of those new safety devices what did they call it?
Oh yeah, a grain rescue tube!
But there was a complication. Between me and the rescue tube stood a cow. And not just any cow, but the cow that had kicked me in the eye just about an hour before.
Don't even ask. I was lucky it didn't blind me, and I'd be luckier still if I didn't have a black eye to show for it.
I yelled at the cow to move, but she didn't seem to get it. Cows are not the brightest.
Finally I lost my temper. I ran at the cow and shoved her out of the way.
"Moooo," she complained. But at least she didn't kick me this time.
I hooked the two halves of the rescue tube to the grapple line. Then I climbed to the top of the ladder, pushed the button on Frank's gizmo, and dragged them up after me.
Inside, the grain was no longer pouring off the conveyor belt. But Frank was now buried up to his neck, and I had to be careful coming near him.
One false move and I could have set off an avalanche, burying Frank in corn. Once I had the two halves of the rescue tube in place around him, I hammered down both sides with my fists, so that Frank was surrounded by a sort of plastic cocoon.
"Now start scooping out the grain," I told him.
"Can't," he gasped. "Can't move. Can barely...breathe..."
I could see that the remaining grain inside the tube was squashing him pretty good. I realized I was the one who was going to have to get that corn out from around him and give him the space to haul himself out. So I hurried back outside, found a small shovel, took it back inside, and started digging him out.
Finally, after about fifteen minutes, Frank was able to wiggle himself up by the handles and get out. "I'm never eating popcorn again," he told me as we climbed the ladder out of there.
"No cornflakes for me."
"I'm with you, bro."
We planted our feet on solid ground, and boy, did it ever feel good.
"No corn chips either."
"Okay," said Frank. "Glad we've got that straight. Now let's go get our bikes. We've still got a criminal to catch."
Copyright © 2005 by Simon & Schuster