There’s no way I can go into the mountain alone.
As much as I want to, it’s too terrifying to even consider. What if I go in and get stuck between some rocks? Or fall into a hole that no one knows about? I need help and there’s only one person I can truly trust. Clayton.
I send him a message about going with me deep into the heart of the mountain. He responds right away . . .
Clayton: You want to go into the mountain tunnel? Are you serious?
Clayton: Wow. Man. That’s kind of crazy.
Me: Yeah, I know. But I’ve got to.
Clayton: I mean, can I go?
Me: You’ll get in trouble.
Clayton: I’m already in trouble.
Me: In that case, let’s make a plan.
Clayton: Fine. Meet me at HAN’S HIDEOUT in two hours.
Clayton’s house is just down the street from mine. The main difference is the hill that’s part of his back yard. Though steep, the top has been leveled off. Stairs up the side are made from wooden skids embedded in the dirt.
Clayton and I run all the way up, trying to avoid Denise and his parents.
So far, we’re in the clear.
A few feet away from the stairs is the L-shaped clubhouse his dad built. On top of its rickety roof is a circular metal dish just like a certain Corellian freighter’s sensor array that got busted off while swooping inside a mechanical moon. That’s the first dead giveaway this isn’t just any kind of building. The second dead giveaway is the name painted on the side:
Just below that it says, NO PRINCESSES ALLOWED. The second part has only recently been added.
“Since when aren’t girls allowed?” I ask.
“Since my sister and her friends spent an all-nighter in here,” he says opening the door.
“Oh man, I haven’t been here in a while,” I say hopping inside. “How’s the ship otherwise?”
He tries shutting the door but it won’t close all the way. “Still flies.”
Inside it’s completely dark, though you can see the three vests that hang on hooks near the door. Two are for Lando and Han, the same clothes in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The third is furry with long brown hair. Clayton takes one of the dark vests. It’s the main hideout rule: stay in character. Mine is the furry one.
Clayton slips his vest on and flips a switch. Suddenly a long access tunnel comes to life with lights popping on along some of the corridor’s many panels. We make our way down the tunnel. About halfway down is a curved bench that surrounds a circular Dejarik table. That’s Star Wars chess. Only, there are no pieces on it. It’s just a place to eat food and talk with friends. On the bench sit three Teddy bears wearing scraps of clothes. Ewoks, if you use your imagination, though there are also a few porgs, including one in a nest with some fake eggs.
“Any snacks in the coolers?” I point to the benches.
“We’re on empty. No sodas. Not even a bag of chips,” he says.
“I’ll be in charge of food,” I say.
We make our way through the tunnel and make an abrupt left turn. It’s dark down here at the end but not so much that I can’t see two cockpit chairs and a giant control panel in front of it. Off to the side is something else, a giant Paper Mache creature that Clayton and I built last summer. The thing looks like a giant yellow slug with a head too small for its body. Its innards are made of wire, foam and cardboard.
“Jabba’s still in the Falcon,” I say with more than a bit of pride.
“I don’t have the heart to get rid of him,” Clayton laughs. “Even though his head keeps falling off.”
I’m already at the control panel. Looks like some new switches have been added. “Are the control panel lights working?”
Clayton jumps in a cockpit chair. “Oh yeah. Dad rewired some of it since you’ve last been here. Check this out.” He hits a green button. Panel bulbs of every color light up like this is the inside of Gabby’s control room. Only this is different. This is the Millennium Falcon AKA Han’s Hideout. “And that’s not all,” Clayton says. “Look straight ahead. Time for the starfield.” Clayton presses another button and out the cockpit window in front of us we see nothing but stars.
I’m in total amazement. “Whoah.”
“Dad was able to rig tiny white bulbs to a black background,” he says. “Took all day to paint some of it. And,” he hits another button, “this is connected to a computer file for ship sounds.” A cruiser-like hum pulses from hidden speakers. Another button causes music to blast into the room. There’s even a volume knob. This really is the coolest hideout ever.
“Nice,” I nod to the ship’s new inner workings, then grab a lever in front of us and yank it backwards. “Is the Hyperdrive working better too?”
Clayton can yell at me to stop, the entire floor lurches forward, then backward.
At the same time, Jabba loses his head and bowling balls crash into each other
somewhere below our feet. I nearly fall down and the lights flicker off then
back on. After a few seconds the floor stops rocking. We’re stable again.
“I don’t know why Dad built it to rock on bowling balls like that.” Clayton picks up Jabba’s head and sets it back on its slug body. “Denise and her friends messed it up worse than it was. Now it does this weird back-and-forth thing every time instead of just tilting backwards. Leave it to her to destroy the ship. She and her friends have been permanently banned.”
I shake my head making sure not to touch anything and gaze into the starfield wishing we could hit hyperspeed.
Clayton, now in one of the cockpit chairs, starts pressing buttons and pulling levers. After punching a few more, he says, “So . . . Are we really going to do this?”
“I think so,” I say. “I can’t go in there by myself.”
“I’d freak out.”
“I guess we’ll have to freak out together. We’ll be a team. Just like Han’s Hideout is supposed to be. What do we need?”
“That’s easy,” I say. “Food. Flashlights. Hard hats. Rope. Digging tools. Maybe we can fly this ship in there just like that space slug in Empire.”
“That would be rad,” Clayton says. “What else?”
“Not much that I can think of,” I say adjusting my Wookie vest. “Just some courage.”
Clayton leans back in his chair. Blinking lights reflect in his eyes. “Do you really think we’ll find a way past the cave-in?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “But I can’t keep doing nothing. I know Dad gets emotional support from me. All the adults keep saying I’m what keeps him going. It’s just not enough. I’ll go crazy if I don’t go in there. I’ll lose it.”
Clayton is about to say something when noise rattles from further down the tunnel, followed by an “Ow!” Clayton’s eyes narrow. “Smuggler’s compartments!” He jumps to his feet.
I race with him back down the hall.
We’re just past the Dejarik table when he stops and points to the floor.
Along the wall is a little piece of rope that’s hardly noticeable. When we hear the bumping sound again, he yanks the rope. An entire panel lifts, revealing a tiny chamber and someone crouching inside.
“Thought you could spy on us?” Clayton says. “You can’t even follow the rules.”
Denise lifts herself out of the smuggler’s compartment. “You should be thanking me.” She waves to her hair, which she’s done in side buns. “I follow hideout rules.”
“Awesome,” I say. “A princess stowaway.”
Clayton isn’t having any of it. “Thanking you? No way. You ruined the Hyperdrive!”
She steps out of the smuggler’s compartment. “That was Mallory Whitehead, not me. I should have never invited her. You know how she is. It made her sick. She freaked out and kept shoving the stick back and forth.”
Clayton shakes his head. “It used to work way better.”
“It did,” I agree.
“You have bigger worries.” She tosses him a phone. “Mom almost saw what you were texting.”
“You looked at my phone?”
“Would you rather Mom did?”
“I guess not. Doesn’t matter. You’re still not invited.”
“Yes I am.”
“No. You can’t come in here.”
“I’m not talking about here.”
“Uh oh,” I say.
Clayton suddenly understands. “Oh no,” he says to his sister. “You’re not going to the mountain.”
Clayton thinks fast but sometimes stutters. “Because. It’s . . . it’s dangerous.”
“So? You need me there.”
“No I don’t.”
“Yes you do. You’re the crybaby in the family. Besides, Cameron will need a couple of lookouts or something.”
“I’m not going to be a lookout,” Clayton says.
“Well then neither am I. We’ll just go with you.”
“I’m telling you,” Clayton says. You can’t go.”
“Fine,” Denise turns around as if to leave. “I’ll tell Mom. I’m sure she’d be happy to lock you in your room for being a graffiti artist, pyro-whatever and now runaway mountain-tunnel explorer.”
“She’s got you there,” I say.
“Whose side are you on?” Cameron barks at me.
“I don’t know,” I say. “She does have a point. Remember that time we went camping and you woke both of us up just so you didn’t have to go to the bathroom alone.”
Clayton’s voice cracks. “I was six!”
“You’re still like that,” Denise says matter-of-factly. “It’s settled. We’re coming with you.”
Clayton is furious, his arms flying around in anger. “Who’s this we you keep talking about?”
Just then we hear “Ow!” again.
Denise isn’t mad at all. She’s smiling.
“Oh no,” Clayton blurts as the oddly familiar voice squeaks from the smuggler’s compartment on the other side of the access tunnel. This time it’s my turn to complain. “No no no!” I cry when out from the other smuggler’s compartment appears none other than Mason Maeng.