Excerpt from Robo Hobo by Carolyn Gray

Warning: This book contains weirdness. If you are looking for a story that makes sense and ends up neat and tidy, take this book and throw it out the window—quick. If you keep reading, don’t blame me. It’s not my fault. I’m only telling you exactly what happened.

Remember—I warned you.

Okay, so you’re here. You’re the brave sort.

So it was about noon. We were all driving in the family car on a Saturday. It was our usual route into downtown. My dad, who was at the wheel, suddenly whipped the car to the gravel shoulder of the road and jammed on the brakes. We were looking at some high-rise condo blocks and the ocean. Should be a pretty scene, right? Wrong. There was also an old, unused wharf that was rotting away, into the sea. It looked creepy, day or night. I never liked passing it. Okay, I’ll admit it. Something about it scared me. Not that I get scared a lot or anything.

I just get scared of a few things.

A day.

Dad jumped out of the car and ran down near the water.

“What’re you doing?” cried my mother, rolling down the window. I could feel the air-conditioned air turn hot fast.

“Just want to see an expensive con-do,” he shouted, like he was making fun of condos.

And my mother laughed like that was really, really funny.

My brother and I gave each other the look. You know the look. The one you give your brother (or sister or dog, or yourself—in the mirror) when your parents are being weirdos. Happens all the time, right?

Dad did a little jig, kicking his legs up in the air. Not embarrassing at all. Then he got back in the car. He slammed his hands on the steering wheel and said, “For once I’m getting something for my tax dollars!”

I relaxed for a second. When my dad’s mad about his taxes, no one else is allowed to be happy or even smile. But when dad was happy, there could be great things, like ice cream. Actually we were supposed to be going for ice cream that very moment. I hoped, I remember now, that maybe, just maybe, we might get to go to the movies later, too.

“Nice dance, dad,” I said. “What was your inspiration? A leprechaun finding a pot of gold?”

“Condos, m’boy! Ritzy holiday condos!”

“Oh, Dave!” said my mom to my dad like she was sailing on a cloud named Dave.

“Condos, my boy,” said my dad, “mean a person has finally made it!”

“Made what?” asked my little brother Angel.

“Made it, boy, made it! Made the grade! It means you’ve arrived!”

“Arrived where?” asked Angel.

“Arrived, boy, arrived! Arrived at the place in your life where all you do is relax. You lie around in your luxury condo doing nothing—just relaxin’.”

Angel and I gave each other the look. We’ve given each other the look many times in our young lives.

We drove downtown, the wrong direction for the ice cream shop.

“Just got to pick something up,” said dad breezily when we wondered why.

The traffic was slow. Then it became jam-packed. Not normal for a Saturday. We turned a corner, and before us we saw miles and miles of cars like a huge used-car lot that was moving by inches.

“Would you look at that?” said my dad, like he was kind of impressed. He isn’t as irritated as normal people stuck in traffic. Dad uses the Ol’ Wedgy move. He’ll force our car anywhere. He doesn’t care if he’s blocking four lanes if it can get him where he’s going.  And he’ll wedge the car in, and then honk his horn like crazy and shout out his window at people, “Get outta my way!”

So we were actually moving pretty well compared to other people when, Wham! An old man with tattered clothes kind of jumped/rolled onto the hood of our car. We were going too slow to actually have hit him. It was like he’d dive-bombed our car. Mom, Dad, me, and my brother, we all hollered with shock. But it’s what the old man with the scraggly beard said to us through the windshield that made my hair stand up on end.

“Listen to me! They’re not human! Run—run for your lives!”

And the old man rolled off the car and ran away, weaving through the rows and rows of cars. My brother and I spun around and watched the guy through the rear car window.  He was dressed in a worn old brown suit and hat, and we just caught a glimpse of his shoes, which looked ancient. He never looked back. He ran like someone was chasing him.

“Who’s not human?” asked Angel.

“He said…r-r-run for our lives!” I said. “Shouldn’t we get out of this car and start running? Like now?”

“Ter-rific!” yelled my dad. “Go ahead! Just jump on my car, random dude, and scare my fraidy-cat son, why don’tcha? Pull yourself together, Alex. That hobo is raving mad!

“What’s a hobo?” asked my little brother.

“A hobo is a very lazy person,” said my mother.

“A hobo is someone who doesn’t pay taxes,” said my father.

“Well, no, actually. A hobo,” I said, “is somebody who walks all over the world, working as he goes. He could pick fruit on a farm, or do any kind of odd job for money. The outdoors is his living room and dining room. When he sleeps at night, the moon and the stars are his night light.”

“I’m sooo happy you’re learning such useful things at school,” said my mom—though she didn’t sound happy. “Do they teach you math and English, too?

“Have to have a word with that teacher of his,” mumbled my dad.

“Don’t listen to what your brother says, little Angel,” said my mom. “Hobos are bad men. They have fleas and don’t bathe. Keep away from them.”

Yes, my brother’s name is Angel. My mom was feeling all lovey-dovey when he was born, and she said he looked just like a little angel. So she insisted he be named Angel. That’s not going to be awkward for him at all. I guess I didn’t look so sweet when I was born cause she just named me Alex.

Angel and I gave each other the look—again. I guessed, by the gleam in his eyes, he was very, very interested in hobos.

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