Caterpillar Roulette

“Push it, I dare ya,” Markie said.

“No way. You push it,” The Snitch replied. “Besides, what if it starts?”

“It's not gonna start.”

“I dunno,” The Snitch replied doubtfully. “The button says START right on it. ‘Sides, we might get in trouble.”

“For doin’ what?” Markie asked. “Who’s gonna know? If it starts, we just take off.”

“He’s not gonna push it,” I said. “He’s chicken.”

“I’m NOT a chicken,” The Snitch said, shooting me a dirty look. “And I don’t see YOU pushin’ any buttons,” he added.

He had a point.

I looked at Markie.

I’ll push it if you do,” he said, then smirked. “But I ain’t goin’ first.”

I took a single, nervous step toward the bulldozer.

I looked around. There was nobody in the woods but us. It was a Sunday, and all the workers were gone. The week before, they had started construction in our woods. They were building a road -- the road that would eventually be lined with new houses. The road that meant the end of our woods, our fields, the big hill, the end of...well....of everything.

“OK. Here goes.” I said, resting my finger on the big red button on the side of the massive diesel engine.

“Do it,” Markie whispered, the excitement in his voice barely contained.

I pressed it slowly, until it clicked home.

The dozer made a sickeningly loud RRRRR-RRRRRR! noise, and lurched. I instantly yanked my hand away from the button, as if I had been burned.

“Holy crap, it moved!” I said, looking at Markie. “Maybe you'd better not. I think it’s in gear.”

“So what?” he said. “A deal’s a deal. I’ll still push it, but Snitch is goin’ after me.” He grinned evilly as another thought occurred to him. “Then we go around again,” he added.

Over Snitch’s loud protestations, he reached out and quickly pushed the button. It made the same Rrrr-Rrrr sound -- only shorter this time -- and lurched forward another foot.

“It’s your turn,” Markie said to The Snitch. “You gonna do it?”

No way,” The Snitch said. “You guys can’t make me.”

We could, and we did. Somewhere between calling him a yellow-bellied chicken-liver, a wimp and any other name we could come up with to indicate the length and width of the yellow stripe going down his spineless back, he caved. In those days, peer pressure was an unstoppable force.

“OK! I’ll do it, just cut it out!” The Snitch yelled at us, his eyes beginning to water. He wouldn’t cry though. He knew if he did, we would never let him live it down.

He wiped his eyes, then stepped toward the dozer. He snapped his arm out and slapped the start button like he was slapping at a mosquito or a fly. The engine made a clicking sound, and the dozer didn’t move at all.

Markie snorted. “Do over. That didn’t count.”

“Do over? No way! I pushed it! You guys saw me!”

“You didn’t barely touch it!” Markie said. “It didn’t count. Do it again.” He looked at me for confirmation.

“Yeah, you hardly touched it,” I agreed reluctantly. “Give it a real push this time. Don’t just smack at it.”

The Snitch reached out and pushed it harder. The engine made the Rrrr-Rrrr-Rrrr sound, lurched forward a good two feet, then backfired. We all jumped, and The Snitch let out a little yelp as a single, dirty puff of black smoke belched out of the stack.

“HOLY JEEZ!” Markie said, wide-eyed. “I think it almost started!” He looked at me expectantly. He was clearly hoping it would actually start. “Your turn,” he said.

I was scared shitless. “I dunno,” I said doubtfully. “It almost started.”

“I know,” he replied, a wild look in his eyes. “Wouldn’t that be sooo cool?”

I had seen that look before. It was the same look he always got right before things went up in flames, exploded, collapsed, disintegrated, or otherwise went south in a major way.

I stood there for a second, doing nothing, deciding my next move. I had two choices – push it or don’t push it. The first choice had two possible outcomes. If it didn’t start, it was Markie’s turn again, and I was off the hook. If it did start, well..it was best not to dwell on that possibility too deeply. The other, much less palatable choice was to do nothing at all. If I refused my turn, I would look like a coward. I was torn.

“What’r you... chicken?” Markie asked.

That was all I needed to hear.

Before I could change my mind, I reached out and slammed the button, holding it in. The bulldozer lurched forward and I took a few steps to keep up with it. The engine clattered, backfired, then roared to life. We stood there, motionless and slack-jawed, as the driver-less bulldozer trundled toward the woods.

We had absolutely no idea what to do -- none of us had actually expected it to take off running. There was no way we could jump on it, and even if we did manage to get on it somehow, we had no idea how to shut it down.

When the bulldozer reached the woods and plowed over a small stand of good-sized saplings, it was like someone flipped a switch in our heads.

Markie yelled, “RUN!!” and instantly bolted for the road. We followed a split second later. I ran faster than I had ever run in my life, before or since. We ran until the bulldozer’s noisy diesel was eclipsed by the sound of our Chuck Taylor All-Stars slapping the ground, our ragged breathing and our pounding hearts. Through the Mohr’s backyard, across the street to Mary Nelson’s house and along the fence to the pond trail, we ran. When we were physically incapable of running any farther, we collapsed on the grassy bank on the far side of the pond, all gulping air and shaking legs. We sat there for few moments to catch our breath and digest what had just happened.

The Snitch spoke first, looking at Markie. “We gotta tell somebody.” he said. You could actually see the normal, almost expected, after-job Snitch-paranoia surfacing. I could never figure out why the hell we even brought him with us, other than the fact that he was my brother, and you had to make certain allowances.

He was clearly beginning to flip out. “Oh jeez. Oh jeez, you guys. What're we gonna do?”

Markie went ballistic. “Do? Are you freakin’ nuts? Nothin’ is what we do. If we even say a word to a grownup, we’ll be in so much trouble you wouldn’t believe. We don’t say nothin, we don’t do nothin." He paused, then leaned closer to The Snitch. “An’ if you tell, you’re dead meat.” He put the period on the end of his sentence by giving The Snitch a knuckle punch in the arm. The Snitch said, "OW! That hurt, you...you....asshole!" He had just learned that one. He looked over at me for back up. Younger brother or not, he wasn’t getting any support along those lines from my corner. The punch was just added insurance.

“Yeah, an’ besides, you pushed it too,” I said. “Twice.” I didn't bring up the fact that I was the one that actually started it. I needed to make it abundantly clear that he was in this as deep as we were. He was a teller, there was no question about that -- but he mostly responded well to logic. All we had to do was get him to see it our way, and after a long session of reason alternating with threats of physical harm, he finally did. He reluctantly agreed that, in this instance anyway, silence and not honesty was probably the best policy.

Sitting there on the grassy bank, looking out over the stagnant, tea-stained water, we made a pact. Markie and I threatened The Snitch with bodily injury one last time - just to make sure - then we all did a pinky swear.

We vowed to Never Speak of This Incident Again.

And as far as I know, none of us ever did.

Well….until now, anyway.

Sorry, you guys. I was out of material.


  1. Great story JV. It sounds a lot like something we would have done. We used to routinely borrow (without asking) my mothers land rover, my oldest brother was all of 15 and he wore mom's old wig under his baseball cap. "It makes me look older dumbass" was the battlecry on this particular venture. I am still amazed that we all survived into adulthood and that only one of us actually ended up with a criminal incident on their record (not me btw, I was to big a weenie for that!) I did however get the opportunity to shoot my brother in the stomach with a pellet rifle, but that story's for another time.

  2. I'm not surprised you were out of material - the time stamp says 2am!

    We've all done something similar, what fun would life be if we were all sensible all th time?

  3. Anonymous9:23 PM

    We've ALL done something similar? We WISH maybe....

  4. Anonymous9:29 PM

    Question, Johnnie -- The genius scientist brother -- is that the Snitch? Not sure how many Virgil brothers there are....see tomorrow, maybe I'll steal your parking spot.

  5. No, the genius scientist is Houdini. He was the escape artist - hence the name.

  6. I wish I could remember stories from my childhood - and I'm 17. -_-

  7. Um...so what happened with the bulldozer??

  8. Sarah, I have no idea. We were too scared to go back. When we finally did go back, they had done so much earth moving, it was tough to tell where anything used to be.

  9. I hate friends like that. They're the ones who come up with an idea, pressure others into it, and then leave them holding the bag.

    They make for great stories, though.