Bookshelf Climbing Challenge


Dad told us before leaving Saturday morning, “Your mother’s sick in bed. Help around the house, stay out of trouble, and don’t you kids bother her unless someone is dying.”

As the day progressed, we did, we didn’t, and by that afternoon someone actually was. Welcome, Dear Reader, to The Great Bookshelf Climbing Challenge, but first a note of warning.

For all those younger readers out there who are bored and still stuck inside their houses due to the ongoing pandemic, please don’t try this challenge. Unless, of course, you want to end up like Twin Brother Mark taking his first ride to the local hospital in an ambulance.

A little before 2:00 p.m. our dad returned from work, walked into the house and right into a nightmare. When talking about the event years later, he still couldn’t believe what he saw and heard.

I was on the kitchen phone crying to the police, pleading for help, “Twin brother Mark is dying!” Around the corner in the living room, Richard and James were screaming at each other while straining in vain trying to lift the floor-to-ceiling bookcase that had toppled over. Squashed somewhere beneath that bookcase and a ton of books was Mark. He couldn’t be seen and wasn’t answering The Sister’s frantic calls.

The sight of blood streaming from underneath the bookcase, collecting into an ever-increasing pool had thrown everybody into panic mode. That’s when both Mom and Dad ran into the living room and into action, but first, the high-climbing backstory.

With Mom sick in bed, Dad had ordered us not to bother her unless one of us was dying.

To help out, we fixed our own breakfast, ran the dishwasher, mopped the kitchen floor, and did all the laundry. After lunch, Mom was still in bed, so we decided to go outside and play. In less than an hour, we dashed back inside soaking wet from the pop-up summer thunderstorm. After drying off and running around popping each other with wet towels, boredom soon set in.

As the rain continued to pour outside, it was Older Brother Richard who announced, “Hey, I’ve got a great new game we can play. Don’t worry. It’ll be safe, and no one will get hurt.” Immediately upon hearing this statement I got worried because it was my time to get hurt. I was only half right. The new game wasn’t safe, and someone did get hurt. Luckily, it wasn’t me.

The more Richard explained the rules of the game, the further I backed up towards the kitchen. “It’s simple,” he proclaimed. “Whoever climbs to the top and touches the ceiling first wins.”

The top he was talking about were the ten-foot-tall bookcases that flanked either side of the console television/radio/record player. “We’ll race two at a time. Who wants to go first?” And that’s when I backed the rest of the way out of the room and into the kitchen.

Big Brother James and Mark stood at the far side of the living room as Richard raised his arms shouting, “Ready, set, go!” He threw his arms down. James raced by and climbed up the left-side bookcase touching the ceiling first. But Mark beat him on the way down to the floor, pulling the right-side bookcase and five volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica down on top of him.

Blood immediately started to flow out from under the bookcase. The Sister started screaming. Richard started screaming. James started screaming. I turned, ran to the phone, called the police and started screaming. Mom and Dad then entered the room.

In what could only be called a Herculean feat of strength, Dad lifted the toppled bookcase off Mark, then Mom dug him out from under all those encyclopedias. Mark was all covered in red and for a moment wasn’t moving, then he started to laugh.

The “blood” was from our collection of lava lamps that were on the middle shelf. His laughter ended abruptly with a withering look from Dad. Saving Mark were the sounds of an ambulance pulling down our driveway and the police knocking at our front door. Just to be safe, he was transported to the hospital to get checked out.

That was how Mom’s first and only sick day ended. For the rest of the time we lived on Flamingo Street, and even when we moved away, Mom never took another sick day.

After The Wife read this story, I told her I was going to tell it to our granddaughters. That’s when she asked, “With all the bookcases we have upstairs, do you really think that would be a good idea? What did you do at their age?”

I reminded her I was the one on the phone calling for help, but she had a good point. Our two granddaughters do love to climb.

Going to the storeroom, I returned with an electric screwdriver and a bag full of metal L-brackets. An hour later, all bookcases were so secured to the wall even Twin Brother Mark couldn’t pull them down. I again asked The Wife if I could tell the girls my story.?

Shaking her head, she replied with a smile, “Some of your stories they just need to read for themselves — preferably a long, long time from now, when they are all grown, in their own house, not so far away.”

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]