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1: “The Three Stooges”

With each passing day bringing closer the Summer Equinox, the sun rose earlier and earlier each morning; but if it had any way of knowing it, the sun may have been surprised to discover that it wasn’t the first one up in Peach Creek that first day of summer vacation.

The mischievous little red fox was first of the three to see the sun rising over the jagged eastern horizon formed by peaks and valleys of junkyard trash. He rather found it to be a nuisance, blinding him for a second as he stepped out of the brand-new shadow and into the fresh light; he had an objective to accomplish, and this unexpected obstacle was something he could seriously do without.

But while he was vexed by the instantaneous optical assault, he didn’t much mind the whole “being awake and active well before dawn” thing. He’d much prefer to still be asleep, of course, and he was very much planning on sleeping like a baby as soon as it was socially acceptable to go back to bed. But today was different. Yesterday had been the last day of middle school, which made this officially The First Day of the Rest of His Life. And there was much work to be done. This was going to be the day that he put himself on the path to the promised land. He was sure of it.

He was plenty familiar with busting his ass to get stuff done and get even a little bit more ahead in the world -- or, more accurately, he was familiar with busting someone’s ass to get stuff done, usually those of his friends. But if he were to be rigged to a lie detector, one would find that he honestly thought that being the passive leader of the trio constituted a hard life’s work. After all, it’s not easy being so commandingly cold to your closest confidantes.

But all those times in the past, he had always made the foolhardy decision to focus on short-term gain in the name of instant gratification. But he had been young. He was allowed to make mistakes then. Soon he wouldn’t be so young, and he wouldn’t be afforded so many chances to learn a lesson. And one lesson he had already learned was that he needed to start looking at the big picture. It was already tempting him to cash in immediately when this new scheme inevitably paid off -- he didn’t think he would ever completely outgrow his affinity for jawbreakers, and heaven knows that with the early-morning fatigue he was presently fighting off, he could seriously go for a sugar rush. But he knew that he needed to start building a future that was more than a few hours ahead of him.

In the past, he called his little operations “scams.” He had no regret for using a word that so widely associated with worthlessness, with thievery, with something deceitful and duplicitous and devious and dirty and dastardly and damnable and deplorable and devilish and diabolical and despicable and downright dickish -- quite frankly, the use of that word made him fancy himself a kind of badass, a sort of lovable rogue if he would say so himself. But this current project? A scam? Oh, nonononono. Scams were the province of children. This? This was a plan . And the endgame was to be comfortably and independently rich. All he had to do was execute each individual step perfectly on the first try and often with no prior practice. Simple enough. He thought that this sort of scam -- no, plan -- was perfect, brilliant, and foolproof, and he patted himself on the back for making such a mature decision as setting himself up for long-term success.

He did have other motives for what he was doing in that junkyard that Saturday morning, but he was trying not to think about them. For one thing, the two friends and cronies with whom he had shared so much success and failure were starting to become… unreliable? Was that the right word? All he knew for sure was that this same passage of time that compelled him to put his plan into motion as soon as possible also saw his buds start to lose steam. It was becoming apparent that their hearts weren’t fully in the game anymore… were they ever? Were they just playing along because the three of them were the involuntarily members of the cul-de-sac’s band of misfits, so they just just went with it so they wouldn’t be alone?

That was the other thing: he wasn’t bashful about the fact that he wanted to succeed so people would like him more, so they would like him so much that he wouldn’t have to try socially because everybody would be coming to him. Small-time neighborhood success certainly worked for his brother, whom all the kids in the cul-de-sac loved back in his heyday, in no small part because his enterprises were actually pretty high-caliber -- he managed to whip together things people would genuinely enjoy while keeping expenditures insanely low and profit margins astronomically high. By the time his brother was his age, he had enough money to pay some older high-schoolers to disassemble, transport, and more-or-less reassemble a car in his room, which he wanted to have just for the hell of it. Just for figurative shits and self-impressed giggles. To impress nobody other than himself. And the older kids were more than happy to do the work because they were downright platonically smitten with the guy. His older brother bled charisma and held a business prowess that he himself had always struggled to find, and along with the height thing and the place of his species in greater society, it was one of the chief sources of his deep-seated insecurities as a budding young fox. The legendary older brother, who already had a major head start on him chronologically, left home early to seek his fortune, but since he was trying to find a locale where his business could really thrive -- and where the law would stop breathing down his back -- he kept bouncing around the country: he had been to the Big Apple and the Big Easy, South Beach and the North Shore, the Windy City and the Mile-High City and about half a dozen Queen Cities, and the last anybody had heard, he was headed to Z-Town all the way on the west coast. This made him extremely hard to keep in touch with; if either of the brothers really wanted to, they could probably find some contact information on one another, but both would probably agree that they were busy attending to business.

Oh, and there was also an added bitterness stemming from how he was convinced his brother had stolen an idea from one of his more successful scams, which had involved some very rudimentary summertime sweets made en masse in repurposed refrigerators (granted, the idea originally was the brainchild of that annoying little twerp Jimmy Victim-Complex, but any fox worth his tail wouldn’t allow a stupid bunny to have all the glory). But he was trying to force himself to forgive his brother for his plagiarism and to remain cool-headed so that he could better keep his eye on the prize; this he too believed was a mature decision and he couldn’t wait for someone to realize that and give him glowing praise for it.

He remembered that his brother had never used the words “scam” or “scheme” to describe his craft, but rather some other word that the younger brother thought was too gaudy even for his own taste. Suffice it to say that there was a period where he debated discarding some of his precious stash of magazines, the ones that were emblazoned with an extremely similar word to the one that his brother used, and this association killed any mood the younger brother felt when perusing them; but luckily his family soon after upgraded their internet to broadband, and all the magazines were now relegated to a quirky relic of past times.

“Son of a--!” he began under his breath upon the moment the sun decided to disrespect him, but he decided that finishing his thought would be a waste of energy. Instead, a pressing question for his colleagues: “How hard can it be to find an ironing board in a junkyard!?”

“Well, Eddy,” offered the a slender gray wolf, “in my experience, ironing boards are not typically prone to deteriorate so severely as to justify being disposed of outright.” He likewise shielded his eyes from the star in the morning sky; he knew that his assertion would probably go unheeded but felt compelled to say it anyway. This was a familiar feeling to him, as was being awake in the early hours, because for as long as he could remember he had been torn between two worlds: one that bred him into being a prim and proper young intellectual who did things like wake at dawn on Benjamin Franklin’s recommendation, and one that had no room for such a person and relegated him to the bottom of the totem pole specifically because of his intellect. Many a time he had lamented being surrounded by idiots, and if anybody had bothered to take notice of his gripes, they may have understood that he wasn’t joking.

Was the wolf even more of a narcissist than his fox friend? Perhaps a better question would be whether the wolf had any way to exercise his self-righteousness beyond some passive boasting and bragging. When his friend wanted to prove his greatness, it manifested itself in some grand venture to put himself on top of the world; but he himself had a high self-opinion specifically because of his passivity and obedience to authority. Much in line with the old archetype of the nerd who’s all book-smarts and no street-smarts, it had never even once crossed his mind that this might not be a sustainable life-model to carry into adulthood; everybody else in his life was either similarly oblivious to this fact and therefore couldn’t warn him, or didn’t care to tell him because they assumed that he would have a complete breakdown on the spot, his entire life crashing down around him in real time, the poor naive wolf-boy crying and howling in a public setting as he processed the revelation that his modus operandi was functionally obsolete and he was now a soul set adrift on an unfamiliar sea without a compass, and it would just be an awkward situation for everyone involved and everybody would rather avoid it. Or maybe he would just disregard their warning altogether as the opinion of a low-intellect individual. Either one really was a plausible outcome.

None of this was to say that he was without initiative or drive to do his own thing; indeed, when left alone, he was liable to pull a technological undertaking or science experiment out of thin air and make some profound discovery that could make the professionals blush for never having thought of it themselves. But this was when he was very much left to his own, and only his own, devices. In a crowd, he would never be the loudest voice: he would either be in the presence of superiors who he dare not try to give the impression that he was insubordinate, or he would be in the presence of inferiors whose respect he could not garner and who would never listen to a word he would have to say. That’s why the fox found him so valuable: he was bred to be loyal and obedient for a world that would have nothing to do with him, so when he brought the wolf into his personal fold, he knew that he wouldn’t have anywhere else to go, nor would he want to. The wolf wanted to be included, and the fox wanted an industrious lackey who could pull knowledge of the STEM subjects out of his ass on command. So they stuck together all these years, despite the fact that all they had in common was being on the neighborhood’s shitlist and a shared affinity for sphere-shaped sugar. Therefore here was the wolf, collaborating in a scam -- no, plan -- that he had no emotional investment in and furthermore hadn’t bothered to have clarified what they were actually doing, simply because it was the way the winds of his life were blowing his ship at the moment.

And the wolf’s therapist wasn’t helping any of this. Bless his heart, he wasn’t observing the fact that this kid was taking a cripplingly passive role in his own life because he was more focused on solving his general anxiety issues. This was all well and good, but it may have had the unintended side effect of reinforcing the wolf’s pseudo-narcissistic tendencies: “Oh, no, Eddward, if you were really severely phobic of germs, you wouldn’t be running through the junkyard with your friends, or you would wrap your tail in plastic wrap! If you were really severely OCD, you wouldn’t be able to wear that -- what is it, a ski cap? -- you wouldn’t be able to wear that if it weren’t perfectly symmetrical on your head. You’re already doing better than you think you are, Eddward.” Many people respond to praise by using it as motivation to keep getting better, but some revel in it to the point of addiction and wind up stagnating if not getting worse; the poor doc had no idea that his subject Eddward would prove to be the second one.

Eddward . The idea of unpacking all the impact that that name had on his life was already on his mental shortlist of topics for college-application essays for when the time for those came. He was strictly Eddward to authority and Double-D to peers and there was nobody who belonged to both camps. His names highlighted the dichotomy of the two worlds he inhabited. They also spoke to the subtle strangeness of an otherwise traditional name: that extra D . It was a family name from his mother’s side, and it betrayed that his forebears had not always been the classiest bunch, so to speak. Despite his usually endless vocabulary, the only word that he could think of to describe his maternal roots would be trashy . The genesis of the Eddward title had begun with an illiterate ancestor and just kept spilling onto newer generations; in the last generation, it was bestowed upon Double-D’s uncle Ward, but by the time that Sammantha Woodland had gone to college, gotten into an excellent line of work, married the equally-successful Vincent Lupo and tried her best to wash her hands of her small-town Virginia upbringing, Gran’Ma and Gran’Pa Woodland decided that their eldest son was too much of a loser (“even by their standards!” Double-D might remark to himself) to ever find a nice lady and have a son to be the next Eddward, and Sammie and Vince found themselves under enormous pressure to name their child Eddward should their child be born of the male persuasion. The pup was indeed a boy, and luckily for Gran’Ma and Gran’Pa, Sammie and Vince were too busy with their jobs as always to ever sit down and brainstorm a better name. The little wolf also got tagged with another family name -- one of those unisex-but-usually-female names that seems to be seen on males disproportionately in rural America -- for his middle name, but ever since he shared the factoid with his friends and they never completely stopped mocking him for it, he knew better than to let it slip again.

The thought had occurred to him that maybe he was being unfair to the culture that his mom had come from; perhaps his mother’s side of the family was riddled with embarrassing stereotypes of American Southerners, but they didn’t consist entirely bad and ignorant people, and he’d met plenty of other kind and smart people who just incidentally had distinct drawls -- after all, he had always lived right about where the South began, so he was bound to meet such trend-buckers eventually. But dammit, he just couldn’t disassociate all of the negative qualities one associates with a blue-collar caricature from the specific individuals to whom he was related, nor from the life he was afraid he would have had if things had been different. This knowledge that he could almost have been like that was the reason he was unapologetically proud of his intellect: he was convinced that he nearly wouldn’t have had it. Maybe the people who thought warning him that his overly-studious lifestyle needed some variety and entropy would fall on deaf ears were correct. Not to mention that his uncle Ward, easily the least-pleasant of his mother’s kin, was also the family member he saw the most often since he had also made his way to the same metropolitan area in Southern Delaware to see if someone there would be desperate enough to hire him. With an object of comparison like that a quick drive away for one’s whole life, perhaps anybody would have turned out as haughty and overeducated and unwittingly condescending and unconsciously biased against rural-dwelling people across the country and around the entire world as Double-D did. But he was still a good soul; he just didn’t know he was bound for a personal crisis if he ever fully embraced adolescence and started wanting to make bad decisions.

Eddy and Double-D scavenged for an ironing board because it was the only thing they needed that they couldn’t get elsewhere for free but also didn’t feel comfortable buying from a store; that is to say, Eddy didn’t feel comfortable buying certain things, and the others weren’t comfortable with questioning him in the middle of one of his strokes of self-described genius. The electric generators he had nabbed from his dad’s work and the extension cords were courtesy of his unknowing parents; the sheets of plastic and laminate he would have rather not bought online so as not to leave a virtual paper trail, but he couldn’t find out where else to acquire them, and he thought that as long as he didn’t also buy an ironing board, the Law could never definitively put the pieces together, so he had the plastic and laminate sent to Double-D’s house since that guy’s parents would invariably be away from home and therefore could not intercept the package. If he could just find a damn ironing board in this literal wasteland, everything would fall into place. The only other thing they would need was gasoline for the generators, but Eddy had that covered. He just sent Ed to find some.

The last one to see the sun that morning was the hulking brown bear standing in the shadow of a trash-mound even taller than himself as he siphoned fuel from the latest abandoned car he had come across. Ed didn’t much mind the brief taste of gasoline in his mouth as he sucked to get the siphon working, nor did he mind that Eddy was exploiting the old joke that bears would consume any old thing besides healthy foodstuffs, but Ed didn’t much mind a lot of things. Really, there wasn’t much that he disliked besides the opposite of things he did like. He didn’t like not being able to watch monster movies or read comic books or eat jawbreakers. He didn’t like people not being nice to him or his little sister, and he didn’t like when his little sister wasn’t nice to him, and he didn’t like disappointing his friends and family. He did have dislikes that weren’t just opposites of his likes, but they were typical things like school and broccoli and grapefruit and being impaled on the heel of your foot with a pebble. All those who knew him would probably agree that Ed was not complex. Some people felt bad for him for this reason, thinking that a simpleton like him would just breeze through life and never be able to make anything of himself, if for no other reason because they thought he lacked the wherewithal to apply himself in the first place. But Ed was happier than they were, and he was happiest almost swallowing the gasoline he was harvesting because he knew that he was helping his two favorite people in the whole wide world. In that moment, nobody could take that away from him.

And as he did with Double-D, Eddy appreciated Ed’s loyalty as well. But he was convinced that the clock was ticking on how long they’d be in business together, so he wanted to get his big, grown-up idea rolling while he still had a crew to operate with. But first he needed a goddamn ironing board.

“Really?” he griped, “Nobody in the history of this town’s ever thrown away an ironing board? Or did somebody else clean this place out already?”

“‘Clean’ is hardly a word I would ever use while speaking of this place, Eddy.” Double-D might have been able to see what Eddy was building up to if he had known about the plastic sheets and laminates, but all he knew about them was that Eddy insisted upon using the Lupo house as the shipping address for a mysterious package. Eddy had been using the school computers to track the shipment on the weekdays when he couldn’t be there himself (and to prevent confusion after he had accidentally opened a box without checking the return address and discovered it was just an industrial-sized order of sticky notes intended for Mr. and Mrs. Lupo, after which Eddy half-heartedly helped Double-D forge a “Package opened by mistake. Love, the Post Office” note), and when the mysterious package finally arrived, Eddy had ran home from school, snagged the package off the doorstep and hid it away where neither Double-D nor anybody else would find it. Double-D -- who imagined that he surely would have run out of breath if he bothered trying to keep up -- had debated trying to send Ed after Eddy to get the package first, just to send Eddy a message that he couldn’t have something sent to his house and still keep it a secret from him; if the package had had any of the Lupo’s names on it instead of Eddy’s, and there was therefore any chance that someone in his family could be implicated if stupid Eddy had somehow bought contraband on the internet and had it sent to the Lupo house, or if in any way it wasn’t guaranteed that they would have the standard several hours before his parents got home to erase any evidence of the package like maybe a “Your package was delivered!” note stuck in the mailbox or something that his parents could find, then he would have made certain that Ed got there first. But he thought better of it, thinking that Ed had been the crew’s workhorse for long enough and deserved a break, and that whatever kick Eddy was getting out of saving this for a big reveal was something he must have needed for self-esteem purposes. Not that Double-D thought Eddy needed any more self-esteem, but he felt like it was the right thing to let him have a meaningless little victory so he could feel better about himself. There was that passive narcissism again.

Ed would very much have liked to have seen the contents of the package, and it wasn’t far back in the past when Ed would have went ahead and got the package first with or without Double-D’s insistence, ripping it open there on the front lawn for the whole world to see and probably moderately to severely damaging whatever was inside. But he knew that Eddy would smack him if he did that. Eddy would have smacked him for that in the olden days, too, but it seemed that at a certain point, around the time that Eddy seemed to him to get even smaller than before, that Eddy started smacking him even harder. It wasn’t even that it physically hurt him; he just didn’t like making Eddy so angry. It made him feel bad to make him feel bad.

Ed kept on making unpleasant gurgley sounds as he siphoned gas out of the next car he saw, and Eddy and Double-D kept strolling aimlessly through the junkyard hoping they’d happen upon the treasure they sought. Double-D emotionally prepared himself for Eddy loudly cursing in frustration while Eddy frustratedly cursed quietly about the sunrise messing with the lighting of the scene around him: everything was either shrouded in darkness or bathed in a weird orangey haze. He was kind of afraid that there could be an ironing board right in front of him and he wouldn’t even recognize it because his eyes were discombobulated -- or whatever a fitting big word would be; he’d ask Double-D but he didn’t care that much. Double-D decided to take his mind off of Eddy’s impending outburst by thinking of other things that could serve the purpose of an ironing board, while Eddy tried to ignore the tricks of the light by pondering why anybody else would want to ransack the junkyard of all of its ironing boards.

“Hm,” he muttered under his breath, “Double-D, remind me as a back-up plan to buy a bunch of ironing boards and sell them to hospitals as, like, those bed-tray-table thingies. If we need to. Which we won’t. But if we need to.”

“Enlighten me, Eddy: what exactly are the scandalous details behind this sca--”

Plan , Sock-Head, plan .”

“... explain to me please why we can’t just buy an ironing board? We’re not young children anymore, Eddy; we may not be wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, but we do have some capital to work with. Or at least those of us who save our allowances do.”

Eddy just scoffed. “All’ll be revealed in its due time, Double-D.”

Double-D made sure that Eddy wasn’t looking before he rolled his eyes.

Ed’s eyes, meanwhile, were focused, and he was arguably putting more effort into his current task than Eddy was. He was scanning for any cars he may have missed from which he could procure every last drop of gasoline. There was only one vehicle in the lot that was exempt from having its fuel salvaged, and even Ed was smart enough to know not to touch it, although in his mind, the vehicle in question didn’t register as a vehicle anymore.

But there was another object that Ed’s mind did recognize as having been a car in a past life, despite the fact that the little part of it that was visible from under the trash pile looked nothing as it once did. If Edd or Eddy had been around, they would have told Ed to let that car off the hook, but even for a guy his size, his heart was disproportionately larger still, and he wanted to make his friends proud.

He acted slowly so that nothing he could conceive of could go wrong: he put the generators and siphon tubes down gently to the side away from the trajectory he expected the car to take when he yanked it out; he’d grab the car by its exposed rear-end and pull it out and up so that the trash on top of it would slide into the hole it made in the hill; and he eyed a big open spot away from the generators and siphon tube where he could put the car down without crushing anything. By the rules of his mind, it really was a flawless plan.

He grabbed the rear end and slid his hands as far forward into the mountain as he could to get all the leverage he could muster, and he planted his feet under its bumper to pull with his legs. He closed his eyes, braced for resistance, and gave it a yank. Then he heard a pop and saw that the bumper had popped off in his hands.

But no matter! Try and try again, he’d always been told. Focus. Reposition. Grab. Prepare. Yank. Pop! And now he looked down and saw that the old buried sedan’s trunk lid had been ripped out of its hinges. He looked back at the growing hole. Some pieces of trash broke out of their sediment and fell into the trunk and at his feet. There was now very little of the car left to grab to pull it out. Okay, now he was pissed.

He backed up a few steps and screwed up all the nerves in his body. He recalled when he was a young cub taking swimming lessons and they tried to teach him how to dive, not just belly-flop or cannonball but properly dive -- he was gonna do that, except he was going to tweak it and go horizontally instead of vertically. He was not going to let that crushed-up old beater make a fool out of Ed.

It was the sound of the crashing and crunching that finally broke Double-D’s apprehension and Eddy’s grumbling.

“What the hell was that?”

“Oh, dear! Ed!”

Finding the source of the cacophony was no struggle at all, as it helpfully grew louder and more ominous. The two boys zigzagged through the maze of debris and detritus; fortunately, all the hours spent here gave them a mental map of the place not unlike the ones they had of their own homes.

“Ed, are you alright!? Have you been injured!?”

“Ed, don’t hurt yourself, you’re no good to me dead!”

It was a bit curious how they managed to find him without actually seeing him; they knew they had their man when they saw a huge cavity in the side of the trash heap, about big enough for a teenage grizzly between his third and fourth growth spurts, and producing a racket of scraping and scratching and mammalian seething that told a heavily illustrated story without a single word. The only thing that they could see in the hole was what they vaguely recognized to be a carelessly-compacted compact car. That and some trash that was starting to fill the hole as it tumbled down the hillside.

“Ed, what in God’s name are you doing!?” shrieked the friend who had a long history of shrieking.

“I’m just digging up the car so we can get gas, guys! Don’t worry, I’m almost done!”

Perhaps the other two were stupefied by their friend’s blind determination, or maybe their brains weren’t firing on all cylinders due to the early-morning fatigue. But in any case, they were both painfully oblivious to the fact that the trash precipitating from atop the mountain was starting to rain down harder.

Thunk .

“Double-D?” Eddy would usually be ecstatic at the prospect of having to look down to see the wolf’s face for once, but he couldn’t get much joy out of his power trip when his friend wasn’t conscious enough to meet his gaze. The last thing he thought before the avalanche came down upon him was whether he recognized the old gadget was that had thwomped Double-D on the head; despite his impressive vinyl record collection; he was not familiar with the look of an 8-track player.

***

Double-D half-sat on the bumper of the old van, rubbing his head, grateful that the impact hadn’t brushed his hat off for Eddy to see; yes, Eddy as well as Ed had seen the scene before, several times in fact, but while he stopped being embarrassed by such moments, he had started feeling annoyed instead, and that was still a feeling that he’d rather not feel. He felt light-headed, but his feeling of cogency was slowly returning to him. He kept feeling around the edge of his hat to see if there were any residue to suggest he were bleeding under there; he knew very well that he could just take the blasted thing off and ask Eddy if it looked like he needed to go to the hospital, but he really just would rather not. Death before dishonor, if you will.

“Hurry up, Lumpy, you’re wasting our head-start!” Eddy hollered at the bear who was cheerfully fishing for and retrieving the generators that had been lost in the great avalanche; Ed usually wouldn’t be happy about making Eddy angry, but he was too happy about his friends being alright after being buried alive to let any negative emotions kill the joy. And besides, without causing the avalanche, they would never have discovered the ratty old ironing board, sliced open and oozing cotton and foam left and right, that had been right in the base of the mountain. But when it was discovered, Eddy had been in no mood for celebration, thinking that the serendipity was really the least the universe could do for him right about now, and didn’t even say a word when Ed presented it.

Ed waded out of the spill zone carrying another generator, which he carefully bestowed at Eddy’s feet. “That’s the last of ‘em, Eddy!” he bellowed.

“Hm, let’s see. One, two, three, six, five, eight…” Eddy counted off and ended with a perky snap of his fingers. “The gang’s all here! Alright, now we can finally start making some headway!”

“Oh, is the grand reveal finally upon us?” quipped Double-D; he would have liked to make a more elaborate display of sarcasm, but he just wasn’t feeling it at the moment.

“You wanna know what we’re doing so bad? Fine. Step aside, Moondog.”

Double-D rolled his eyes again, this time in plain sight, as he stood up from the van’s bumper, though that display of incredulity might not have been a good idea with the condition his head was in, as it was enough to make him dreadfully dizzy when he rose. But as always, the dutiful living tower was right there to grab him and hold him up.

“I’m here for you, Double-D!”

“Thank you, Ed.” He need not say more.

Eddy stepped up to the rear doors to the bed of the van, and positioned himself in such a way that corroborated Double-D’s theory that this was going to be played off as a grand gesture.

“Gentlemen… Ed … answer me this: what was yesterday?”

Double-D was slightly taken aback by the obtuseness of the question.

“Th-- it was the last day of school, Eddy.”

Which school?”

Double-D couldn’t hide his face of disbelief, while Ed hung on every word of their exchange, itching to know where this was all going.

“We… graduated from middle school, Eddy. Middle school, Eddy, if you didn’t know, is also known as ‘junior high,’ and is one echelon of the public-schooling system in the United States. It typically includes students from grades six through eight, although some districts do elect to also serve fifth-grade pupils, while others are restricted to seventh- and eighth-grade youths.”

Eddy was so bored by Double-D’s answer that he almost forgot to respond.

“Yeah, well, uh… Yeah! What comes after middle school, genius?”

“We would be entering the ninth grade, which in our school district would be sanctioned at Forest High Schoo--”

High school! Now that’s what I’m talkin ’ about! And starting high school means…?”

“It means--”

I’M A BIG KID NOW! ” boomed Ed, proud of himself for being able to contribute to the call-and-response game they were playing.

“Attaboy, Ed!” Eddy picked up, “And what do big kids like? Wait! Before you bore us all to tears with an answer, Sock-Head, let me give you a hint…”

The door was opened ever so slightly so that Eddy could squeeze in and the others couldn’t see much of anything inside. He came back to the door holding the extension cords.

“So we have some power cords,” he said as he dropped them on the ground, “a power supply… and courtesy of our lovable ol’ pal Ed causing a man-made natural disaster--” (Double-D again rolled his eyes at such an abomination of language; rolling his eyes was proving to be most of his day’s exercise) “--an ironing board. Oh! But what are we missing?” Eddy disappeared back into the van and returned with the large package that had arrived at the Lupo residence a few weeks back, and which he had been waiting for an equal number of weeks to open. He used one of his claws to slice it between the gaps of the box-flaps, and gently opened it for his friends’ viewing pleasure. “Lo and behold.”

Double-D leaned over, and Ed leaned over on top of him, and they saw the reams of laminate sheets, each one making the next more opaque, but just enough light got through to the bottom to show at least one rectangle of thin plastic, close enough to the top to suggest that there were many more beneath it.

“We’re making fake IDs, boys.”

Silence.

“Cool!” remarked Ed.

Silence.

“Are you out of your incapacitated mind!? We’re out on summer vacation for, what, fifteen hours, and you already want to become a professional criminal!?”

Shhh! ” urged Eddy, “Do ya want the whole country to hear ya?”

“Perhaps I do, Eddy; maybe if I had a populace of hundreds of millions on my side, you would feel compelled to abandon this-- this felonious folly!”

“Chill out, will ya? I say…” Eddy counted on his fingers for a quick second, “...four--! No… five words to you, and you bite my freaking head off! Hows-about you hear me out for once?”

“Fine,” Double-D crossed his arms indignantly, “humor me, Eddy.”

“So. Double-D. Old buddy, old pal. All any of the three of us have ever wanted in the cul-de-sac is to fit in. Feel accepted. Be adored .”

Double-D raised a finger and opened his mouth as he began to protest, but Eddy reached up and snapped his snout shut.

“No, shh-shh-shh-shh-shh! Don’t say a word yet. Eddy’s talking. So. High school. It’s a lot of things. But most importantly, it’s two things: a place for a fresh start, and the place where you become an adult . At Forest, there won’t just be people from Peach Creek; there’ll be kids from Lemon Brook. And Apple River, and Cherry Stream! We don’t have to be the kids we always have been. We can reinvent ourselves! We can be people who people want to be around ! And when an entire building is full of kids becoming adults, who are they going to want to be around more than the people who can help them trade in their juice boxes…”

He gestured very deliberately toward the box.

“...for adult beverages? We can be popular, make money, and it can set us up for life. So with all that on the table… whaddaya say?”

A self-assured smirk locked eyes with a death-glare.

“Oh, is it my turn to speak?”

“Go tell it on the mountain, Lupo.”

“Well, then, ignoring the fact that you completely misappropriated the original usage of that idiom, I must remark that a life of crime is not simply undesirable, but also infamously unsustainable--”

“You know what, Double-D? Aren’t you in therapy right about now? For all of those little anxieties that hold you back in life? Wouldn’t the old doc be so proud to see that you finally let go of all your cares and started doing something fun and daring for once in your life?”

“Oh, you will not use my psychiatric problems and progress against me! I say--”

“Actually, come to think of it, wasn’t this all your idea in the first place?” Eddy’s grin was consuming him and slightly hindering his ability to speak and annunciate. “That one time that we found a camera, and without even having to say it to one another -- we were on the same wavelength, it was beautiful -- without even having to say ‘How can we use this to make money?’ you come up with ‘Hm! We can make ID cards!’ and I never told you this, Double-D, but if I didn’t think there was more money in the calendar market, I would have fallen head-over- heels for an idea like that! You see, Sock-Head? This idea is yours ! It took a few years to come out of the oven, but it’s nice and toasty and all ready to go! You were the leader of this operation for once! Aren’t you proud of yourself, Double-Dipshit?”

A smirk and a glare.

“Silence,” pronounced Ed.

Except Ed, who was sleepy and had recently received blunt-force trauma to the head and other parts of his body, was giving Eddy a run for his money in terms of having trouble annunciating. What he meant to say was:

Sirens! ” Double-D couldn’t help but exclaim. “Eddy, you fool, the authorities know that you’ve roped us in to a highly illegal ring of activities! This is conspiracy to make fraudulent facsimiles of government documents!” His sentence structure was uncharacteristically not of the highest possible caliber; Eddy didn’t care to notice, but Ed could hardly bear to watch his friend go through what was clearly the deepest fear he’d ever experienced in his life. “No! No! I’ve worked too hard to maintain a perfect record -- I can’t surrender that now! Oh dear God, my life is over!”

“Oh, hush, will you? We haven’t done anything yet. Besides, there’s no way that they could have heard me say that just now,” Eddy insisted. But then he thought about it. “Unless…”

Double-D was shaken out of his stupor by Eddy grabbing his chest and trying to rip his shirt off.

“Are you seriously wearing a wire? Did your uncle put you up to this!”

Double-D found the breath to gasp. “You know my family does not associate with that man!”

“Bullshit! Everybody knows that wolves stick to their packs!”

“Eddy, that is a harmful, antiquated stereotype! And furthermore, nobody in my family maintains more than passing contact with him! We don’t even know if he has the authority to do such things as you suggest! I don’t even know if we’re in his jurisdiction!”

Ed, who couldn’t keep watching his friends go to pieces, looked to the sky to get away from it. But he couldn’t escape it. “Eddy, look! Helicopters!”

They brought air units!? ” Double-D remarked as the trio observed a couple of choppers looming over the woods beyond the creek. Now Eddy was starting to believe the hype.

“Okay, then, Sock-Head,” Eddy spit out, “Logically -- be the smart guy here for a second -- if you aren’t wearing a wire, then how would they know we’re here?”

Without missing a beat, Double-D had his logical explanation ready to go: “My educated guess is that someone reported loud noises coming from the junkyard when the mound of waste fell and now they’ve come to investigate the cause of the ruckus!”

Eddy’s eyes were stuck all the way open; the sun didn’t make him squint anymore. “Okay, boys, well, uhm… While I’m totally sure that they’re not coming for us, I, uh… wait, are they coming over here or not?”

Looking at the helicopters again, they seemed to just be encircling the forest. But then again, the forest wasn’t that far away. Eddy was simply confused by this situation, and he wanted out.

“Let’s uh, let’s appease our friend Goodie-Two-Shoes over here and, uh, let’s lay low for awhile. As practice, yeah! In case, God forbid, someday we do get into trouble with the law! Let's play pretend, boys. While we’re still young. May I recommend the trusty old van? We haven’t hung out in her for awhi--”

Ed didn’t see any need to let that Eddy finish that sentence. He grabbed the little fox and the medium-sized wolf and piled his large self into the back of the van with them.

“Wait! Ed, the evidence! Get the goods!”

Ed slumped back out and wrangled up all of the generators and spools of wire and the ironing board and shoved them all into the van, and squeezed himself in right behind it. But in his haste, he forgot something in a box that, to be fair, was a color that very much blended in with the sand-dirty ground.

“Close the doors!” cried a voice, and thus began the waiting until the coast was clear.

“Heh. I’m hungry.” Ed had a penchant for acting as though stressful situations had not just happened, nor were happening concurrent to the present. It was a gift, really.

“Of course you are,” said the wolf, who could barely think of eating. “Do we still have that cache of snacks in the glove compartment?”

“Eh, I’ll look, but keep an eye on the windows and tell me if I have to get down,” Eddy crawled over the seats to the front of the vehicle, deciding that taking the chance of being seen through the windshield would put him in less jeopardy than being stuck in a confined space with a hungry, growing grizzly bear. “By the way, as long as we’re in here, we might as well get to work. Um… did anybody remember to bring an iron?”

Outside, sirens. Inside, silence.