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Authors: Chris McMahen

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Box of Shocks



Chris mcmahen


Text copyright © 2011 Chris McMahen

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

McMahen, Chris
Box of shocks [electronic resource] / Chris McMahen.

Type of computer file: Electronic monograph in PDF format.
Issued also in print format.

I. Title.
PS8575.M24B69 2011A     JC813'.54     C2011-903337-2

First published in the United States, 2011
Library of Congress Control Number
: 2011929398

: Oliver, a pampered only child, collects souvenirs from his daring exploits,
but discovers that the most shocking things of all can't be catalogued or contained.

Orca Book Publishers is dedicated to preserving the environment and has printed
this book on paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council

Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.

Cover design by Teresa Bubela
Cover image by Getty Images
Author photo by Ben McMahen

PO Box 5626, S
. B
PO Box 468
, BC C
V8R 6S4
Printed and bound in Canada.

14 13 12 11 • 4 3 2 1

For my brothers, John and Ivor.



















only lie to Mom and Dad when I have to. Like now.

It's a rainy Saturday afternoon in October, and I'm down in the basement of our house digging in the dirt floor with a rusty old shovel. The basement is the only place in the house Mom won't go. She's afraid of mice, spiders, snakes—that sort of thing. Right now, she's at the top of the stairs.

“You better not come down here, Mom,” I call up to her. “I just saw two spiders, and a minute ago, a mouse ran right past me. It was being chased by a snake.”

I didn't actually see the spiders or the mouse, and I've never seen a snake down here. Sure, it's a bit of a lie, but it's the only way I can keep Mom from coming down here and telling me what to do.

As for Dad, he's not afraid of mice, spiders, or even snakes, but he does have a dust allergy. When he goes into the basement, he ends up coughing and sneezing for about a week, so I'm pretty safe from Dad.

That's why I like it down here. It's the only place in the house where they can't bug me.

“I hope you were careful on the stairs, Oliver,” Mom says.

She's worried about me and the basement stairs ever since the time when I was five and Deedee, the babysitter, was taking care of me. I did a few somersaults down the stairs and ended up breaking my arm. Sure, it hurt, but it wasn't such a big deal. Mom and Dad were pretty freaked out though. Now they figure every time I walk down the basement stairs, I'm going to do a repeat performance.

“Yes, I was careful on the stairs, Mom,” I say. “I made it all the way down safe and sound. No broken arms, both my legs are still attached and my brain is still inside my skull. You don't have to worry.”

Besides being left alone, there's another reason why I like it down in the basement: I love to dig in dirt. Especially this dirt. Our house is so old, the basement floor is just dirt. And I like dirt, because dirt has possibilities. You never know what you might dig up.

Who knows? Maybe I'll find a stash of money. Maybe a gang robbed a bank, used this house as a hideout and hid millions of dollars under the dirt floor. And maybe they were caught in a shootout before they could dig up the money.

You never know.

“Oliver!” Mom again, calling from the top of the stairs.

“What is it?”

“Your lunch is ready.”

Lunch! Why would I care about lunch when I'm about to dig up a suitcase full of hundred-dollar bills or a trunk full of gold bars?

“It's okay, Mom. I don't want any lunch,” I call back.

“But it's already on the table. And it's your favorite.”

“My favorite? You made me chocolate-covered jellybeans for lunch?”

“No, Oliver. It's macaroni and cheese. Your favorite food in the whole world.”

I hate it when she says something is my “favorite food in the whole world.” Macaroni and cheese is
my favorite food in the whole world! My favorite food in the whole world is actually marshmallow pizza. I'm not expecting Mom to serve up marshmallow pizza anytime soon unless someone discovers that marshmallow pizza is in the same food group as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and spinach. For some reason, I don't think that's ever going to happen.

“Okay. I'll be up in a minute,” I say.

This is another lie. I won't be up in a minute, because I want to dig. Even though I haven't discovered any hidden loot yet, there's a chance I might dig up something else— like some old bones. Not that I'd be crazy about digging up an old skeleton, but if I hauled a skull upstairs, my mom would freak out. I'd enjoy that.

A few minutes later, I hear, “Oliver! Your lunch is getting cold!”

“It's okay,” I reply. “Macaroni and cheese always tastes better when it's cold. In fact, it tastes best when it's completely frozen!”

“Don't be silly, Oliver.”

“I'm not being silly, Mom.”

That's when my shovel hits something. Something hard. I jab at it a couple more times. It's not hard like rock. It feels wooden and hollow. Treasure chests are wooden and hollow. But so are coffins!

The back door opens, and I hear footsteps crossing the kitchen. I recognize those footsteps. It's Dad. Dad doesn't care if I dig in the basement. If I'm lucky, maybe he'll distract Mom for a while so I can keep digging.

I dig faster. Could this actually be a treasure chest? Then I think, Skulls are also hollow and sort of wooden.

I stop digging.

But what if it's not a skull? What if it's a treasure chest full of hundred-dollar bills or bars of gold or diamonds?

I start digging again, a little faster, until I can see the outline of something with four corners.

Upstairs, the microwave
. Mom must be warming up my macaroni. I dig a bit more and brush the rest of the dirt away with my fingers. Now I can see what looks like a wooden box. It's too small to be a coffin. That's a relief. The top is all scratched and scraped like it's been hit with a shovel. Probably my shovel.

I dig around the outside edges with my fingers until I can wriggle them underneath and pull the box up out of the dirt. It's shaped like a shoe box, but a bit bigger. There's no writing on the box—just some squiggly black designs on the sides.

It feels light. That's not good. Gold bars or even tightly packed bundles of hundred-dollar bills would weigh more than this. But there
to be something good inside. Boxes get buried for a reason.

“Oliver! I warmed up your macaroni.”

“Just give me a minute!” I shout.

“We don't have much time, Ollie!” Dad says. “We have to leave for your dentist appointment in twenty minutes.”

The dentist? Last week, I had to get my eyes checked. The week before that, I had to see the doctor because Mom was worried about a rash on my elbow.

“And be careful on those stairs,” Dad adds.

Be careful going up the stairs? Who's ever heard of anyone falling UP stairs?

“Yeah, I'll be careful, Dad,” I say, hoping he'll leave me alone for a few more minutes. I can't wait to find out what's inside this treasure box.

There are hinges on one side of the box. Very carefully, I pull the edge of the lid. As it swings open, I hold my breath, ready to be amazed by what's inside the box.

I open the lid and see…nothing!

No gold bars. No hundred-dollar bills. No diamonds—nothing except dead, stale air! What kind of a buried treasure is this? Why in the world would someone bury an empty box in the basement of our house?

There should be a law that if you find a buried box, there's got to be something inside it. And whatever's inside should make you stinking rich or at least famous. Or there should be something magical that will change your life—maybe a ring that makes you bulletproof, or a hat that gives you the power to shoot lightning bolts out of your eyes. Not just stale air!

The great buried treasure in the basement floor is an empty box. Whoop-dee-doo!

“Ollie! Get a move on! We don't want to be late!” Dad calls.

“Yeah! I'm on my way up. Just give me a minute.” I hear his footsteps moving across the house to his home office.

Who wants some stupid empty box? I should bury it back in the dirt and let some other poor sucker dig it up in a few hundred years.

But just as I'm about to drop the box back into its hole, I think of something. It's a plan!

A brilliant plan!

A spectacularly brilliant top-secret plan.

A top-secret plan so spectacularly brilliant, just thinking about it will make my hair burst into flames! Yes, my plan is that good!

But my spectacularly brilliant top-secret plan is interrupted when Mom shouts from the top of the stairs. “Oliver! I don't know what you're doing down there, but it's time to come up for your lunch. Do you hear me, Oliver?”

“Yeah, I hear you, Mom!” I try to fill in the hole where the box had been by kicking the dirt with my foot. For my spectacularly brilliant top-secret plan to work, I can't leave the box down here. I need to be able to get to it easily. But it has to be in a safe, top-secret place where no one except me can find it.

The best place would be somewhere in my bedroom. The problem is, I'll have to find a way to smuggle it up there without Mom or Dad seeing it. It's too big to stuff under my shirt—Mom would notice right away. What can I do? If they see my box, my spectacularly brilliant top-secret plan will be ruined.

As I stand in the basement with the box in my hands, I get a lucky break. The phone rings, and I hear Mom crossing the floor to answer it. This is my one and only chance.

I tuck the box under my arm, dash up the stairs to the kitchen, tear down the hall, take the stairs two at a time to my room and close the door.

I have to hide the box—fast—before Mom gets off the phone or Dad comes out of his office.

But where can I hide it? I have to find a really good place because I'm pretty sure Mom snoops around my room when she brings up the laundry or does the vacuuming.

I head to my closet, grab all the clothes on hangers and throw them on the bed. I look around inside the closet, trying to find a nook or a cranny to hide the box. I'm about to give up when I notice one of the wooden wall panels has a corner sticking out. I grab the corner with my fingertips and wiggle it. Gradually, it loosens until—
—it comes right off. In behind the panel is a small space in the wall between two boards. It looks about the same size as the box. I grab the box and slide it into the space. Amazing! It's a perfect fit! It's as if the box had been made for this spot. Or the spot had been made for the box. Either way, this hiding place is perfect.

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