“WE got a wood chipper out back!”
The seven words ricocheted off the brown-wood paneling of the small home, rendering adult life forms motionless and spraying implications everywhere. Only the kid seemed unaffected. He darted underneath the kitchen table and ditched Frack’s rambling science lesson for an impromptu field trip. Frick followed and before I knew it, my easy little feature was running out the door.
I followed, but none too gracefully. Dropping the cell phone, I dashed across the room and ripped open the screen door. Upon exit, the top of my camera’s light post caught the top of the doorframe, jerking me backwards as I slid on my ass down the porch steps. Frick and the boy barely gave my awkward ejection a second glance though as they rounded the corner out of sight. I fell in behind them, switching filters, guessing light temperatures and flipping camera presets all the way. Behind me, I could hear Sideshow Bob join in the chase. If a jogger had passed by and seen the frizzy haired stranger chasing the cameraman chasing the old coot chasing the boy…well, I’m curious how‘d he interpret the scenario. Chances are it wouldn’t be astronomy.
Behind the back yard, a dense line of trees towered over the swing sets and doghouses. With the last of the daylight evaporating into shadows, I could barely make out the hole in the underbrush the boy disappeared through but ole Frick followed with ease so I did likewise. As I entered the forest at full speed, my camera shouldered and rolling I blinked in a vain attempt to squeeze more light of the air. It was hard to see where I was stepping, especially with a one-inch screen bobbing one inch in front of my right eye. That’s when I heard the boy’s voice call from up ahead.
“Careful - they’re used to be some holes back here”
‘USED to be?’ I thought as I planted another foot on the forest floor and sunk to my shin. With my foot suddenly tangled in a crevice of underground tree roots, the rest of me kept moving forward until I smacked into the ground with a painful thud. Before I could absorb the hit, the weight of the camera met with the side of my head, leaving a bright red spot on my dirt-smeared forehead. Behind me, Sideshow Bob approached meekly.
“Are you okay?’ he asked - his first and last words of the evening.
“Son of a --”, I never finished the thought; instead I yanked my foot out of the hole and took the young newspaperman’s hand. I didn’t say much as he helped me up - I was too busy checking my camera and picking up my cool points. I had to leave a few on the ground when I herd rustling up ahead.
“Over here!” the boy’s voice echoed.
Sideshow jogged behind me as I half-limped, half-trotted toward the voice. In the dying light, I saw the boy and Frick peering through a tall chain-link fence, their silhouettes backlit over the fence’s gridiron. The sight reminded of my camera and I squared up the shot, leaning on a tree to compensate for my heavy breathing. After a few seconds, I moved up to the fence itself and zoomed all the way in. Through the blue haze of the viewfinder, I filled the screen with the industrial size wood-chipper that dominated the middle of the city-owned compost yard.
“There’s your space ship,” Frick said, with more than a little disappointment in his voice.
A half hour later I crawled in my news unit, cranked up the engine and checked the dashboard clock. 8:04 -- two hours until the Ten o Clock news music filled living rooms around the Piedmont. After our woodsy excursion, I came back to the house and interviewed the moon rock family one last time. The parents seemed confused as ever; only the boy seemed to appreciate the irony of the metal blob’s apparent earthbound origin. Even Frick admitted on camera, that the formerly mysterious object was most likely indeed a broken tooth from the massive wood-chipper out back, even noting how the trajectory of the grinder’s chute lined up with the hole in the house‘s roof. After Frack put the metal mass underneath a powerful telescope and found little tiny flecks of grass and wood chips, the luster had officially worn off my magical little moon rock.
But not for the viewing public, apparently. The phones back at the newsroom were still ringing off the hook with assorted theories, suggestions and overall hysteria. So much so that the Ten o Clock producer had promoted the moon rock follow-up to his lead. I was picking dried up dirt flakes off my forehead when he called to tell me the news.
“The lead? It’s a freakin’ tooth from a wood chipper!” I yelled into the cell phone.
“Maybe so,” the voice said, but for the next two hours, its a moon rock, and we’re milkin’ this baby! Get back here!”
I did as told. The next city officials examined their giant wood chipper, found a broken metal tooth stub and reluctantly agreed to look into the matter further. Two days later, I was sitting at my desk and struggling with a script when the shapely night-side reporter hung up her phone.
“Check it out” she said to the passing assistant news director. “The city’s gonna pay for the Moon Rock family’s roof! We’re doing a follow-up!”
“What did I tell you?” the well-tailored manager said, “We’re making a real difference in people’s lives out there...”
Yeah, I thought, but we‘re peddling our share of hype too. I then returned to my computer and hashed out a script about a dog in a funny hat. I love local TV news.