Jun. 23rd, 2011

He had come to dread the hill. Rob had a twenty mile commute home from work. Mostly his little Chevy did just fine on the roads; it could accelerate to speed when getting on the freeways, and it could handle the gentle rises and slopes of the countryside. But the hill lay at the end of the drive home, the last obstacle to overcome after a long day at work. It was probably five hundred feet bottom to top, and the grade was the steepest thing for miles around. Every day Rob approached the hill with trepidation, because his Chevy didn't do well on it – and it was getting worse.

His car's engine just didn't have the get-up-and-go. As soon as he hit the climb, the motor would rev into high gear and stay there. The high-pitched buzz would become a scream, drowning out the radio. Before he reached the halfway point, Rob would start to smell something burning.

For several evenings Rob had been obliged to pull the car into a driveway partway up the hill, rest the car there for fifteen minutes, and then climb the rest of the way, trying to ignore the tortured sounds coming from under the hood. On the last evening, afraid that his poor car would burst into flames, Rob had actually had to stop twice – the second time within view of his own driveway – and give the engine a chance to recover before pulling into the garage.

Rob had had enough. He coasted down the hill easily enough on his way to work. He informed his boss that he had an errand to run that might require him to take his lunch a bit longer than usual, and drove the Chevy to Mac's Garage. Mac had been taking care of Rob's cars since he was in high school. Mac himself greeted Rob, cleaning his hands on an oilrag, as Rob pulled into one of the bays.

"Engine trouble?" asked Mac as Rob got out.

"That obvious, huh?" said Rob ruefully. "I was thinking I might have a bad spark plug."

"You can really hear it," said Mac. "Let's take a look."

He popped the hood and propped it, then made a face and shook his head. "There's your problem," he said. Rob looked.

In the middle of the engine was a large box with a transparent plastic lid. Inside it four tiny treadmills could be seen. Sitting on the treadmills were four hamsters, all brown and white. To Rob's horror, one of the hamsters was lying on its side and not moving.

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September 2012

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