Putting one foot carefully in front of the next, Woodruff and Bob made their way slowly toward the back of a bright yellow van. Bob signaled with his hands for Woodruff to move to the passenger’s side of the windowless vehicle, while he crept quietly around to his left. The two moved slowly and silently, in parallel, until they reached the front doors.
Woodruff peered through his window and held his index finger to his lips. Bob nodded back, from the other side of the glass, and mirrored Woodruff’s shushing motion. Tentatively, Bob reached up and laid hold on the chrome door handle. He looked across to Woodruff, who bit softly on his lower lip. With his thumb, Bob gently pressed in the shiny metal button and there was a faint click as the door latch disengaged. The sound was barely audible but both he and Woodruff winced at the minute noise.
Bob looked over to Woodruff for confirmation. Woodruff glanced warily over each shoulder and nodded for Bob to continue. His thumb was still pressed firmly on the button, but he had not moved a muscle since the tiny click. He drew in a deep breath through his nose and held it for a few seconds. Woodruff closed his eyes tight as Bob eased the heavy door open. The hinges creaked and Bob froze. A wide-eyed Woodruff shook his head and held his hands in the air to beckon him to stop. Bob remained as still as a statue as Woodruff tip toed around the front of the van to joined him by the creaky door.
“What do we do?” Bob whispered.
Woodruff raised his hands and made a series of signals with his fingers. Bob opened his mouth slightly and shook his head.
“You know I only know the sign for milk and yes,” Bob replied in his best library voice.
Undaunted, Woodruff gestured to the door and began to pantomime his communications. He gestured toward the door handle with a closed fist and slowly opened his first with his fingers apart. Bob carefully released his grip on the chrome lever and took a step back. Woodruff slid between Bob and the slightly ajar door. He laid his body flat against the side of the van and slipped his arm into the open crack, like a pair of tweezers fishing for the wishbone in a game of Operation.
“Careful,” Bob mumbled, in a barely audible voice.
Woodruff crinkled his lips, making the universal shush formation. A gust of wind blew the door wide open with a creak and a clunk.
“Ah man,” Woodruff moaned.
“We’re dead,” Bob said. “I told you.”
“We could have done it. We almost made it.”
“No way. It’s impossible to survive in A Quiet Place universe. There’s just no way.”
“Especially if you don’t know sign language.”
“My lack of ASL skills did not kill us, the wind did.”
“We were killed by the wind!”
“Can I ask what you two are doing?” a deep voice, with a drawl, called from behind them.
They spun around to find a uniformed policeman standing with his hand resting on his hostler.
“Oh, uh, hi Officer…” Bob squinted to read his badge.
“McClusky,” he replied. “I say again, what are you two doing?”
“We were seeing if we could survive in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity is hunted to extinction by sound,” Woodruff said.
“Spoiler alert, we could not.”
“No we couldn’t.”
Officer McClusky removed his mirrored sunglasses and eyed them suspiciously.
“Is this your vehicle?”
“Technically, it belongs to our friend, Hands,” Bob said.
“Technically?” the policeman asked.
“Well it was left to him by his trainer,” Woodruff said. “But legally speaking he can’t drive.”
“And why is that?”
“On account of him being a bear.”
“Your friend is a bear?”
“A bear who owns a van?”
The van began to rock from side to side. Officer McClusky dropped back and loosed the clip on his hostler.
“What’s in there?”
“He chose to take a nap while we watched a movie.”
“He doesn’t like horror films. Although I would argue it wasn’t truly a horror movie.”
“It was more of a suspense thriller family drama.”
“Are you telling me there’s a bear in that van?” Officer McClusky asked. He pointed to the rocking van with transparent concern and aggravation. A growling yawn emanated from the back of the van.
“Well it ain’t a chipmunk,” Bob said.
“He’s a little grumpy after naptime, so I’d put your weapon away,” Woodruff added. He walked to the back of the van and pulled one of the double doors open. Bob grabbed hold of the other door and heaved it to the side as the policeman shuffled between them.
Hands sat up and scratched at his protruding belly. He blinked his big brown eyes as he strained to adjust to the daylight. A pedestrian on the sidewalk tripped over the curb and fell on his hands and knees, never talking his eyes off the bear in the van. Officer McClusky hurried over to the man and helped him to his feet.
“Is that a…a…a…,” the pedestrian stammered.
“Yes sir, that’s a bear,” Officer McClusky said. “You’d better move along. I’ll handle this.”
“Handle what?” Woodruff asked.
“The bear issue.”
“Well for starters,” the policeman said. “How did it get here?”
“It is a he and HE rode here in the back of HIS van.”
“Sounds like the issue here is bearism.”
“Yeah, the bearist fear and prejudice against large furry mammals.”
“No, the issue is it’s illegal in the state of Missouri to drive with an uncaged bear in your vehicle,” Officer McClusky said. He got out a small ticket book and began to write.
“Uncaged bear?” Bob said. “Do you hear yourself? That’s the most bearist comment we’ve heard this whole trip and we’ve been through Kentucky.”
“And where are you headed on this trip?” Officer McClusky asked.
“Oklahoma,” Woodruff said. “Hands is competing in a wrestling tournament, unless you’re going to tell us that’s illegal too.”
“Actually, I believe it is.”
“Well poop,” Bob said.
“You can’t say the p-word in Missouri,” the policeman continued to scratch out words on his pad.
“You can’t say poop in Missouri?”
“Nope,” Officer McClusky said. “This is the Show Me State. You start throwing words around willy nilly and it gets messy.”
“So, you’ve got a busted taillight, expired tags, an uncaged bear and two counts of using the p-word,” Officer McClusky said. He finished writing out the ticket and handed it to Woodruff.
“Things escalated quickly.”
“That how it works in the Show Me State,” Officer McClusky snapped his sunglasses back on and scrunched his nose to push them up into place.
“This feels like the time we committed low treason,” Bob said.
“In my defense, I didn’t know she was a monarch,” Woodruff replied.
“How do you intend to get that bear out of here?” the policeman asked.
“Call him ‘that bear’ just makes you sound more bearist,” Bob said.
“Can’t we just pay the fine and drive out of here?” Woodruff asked.
“Afraid not. I can’t let you drive out of here with an uncaged bear in the back.”
Through the trees, on the far side of the parking lot, Bob spotted a sign that read Pat’s Pets. A smile broke across his face and he began to nodded rhythmically.
“I’ve got an idea.”
Minutes later the yellow van was motoring down the highway with the happy occupants signing along to the radio.
“I don’t wanna be your fool, in this game for two, so I’m leavin’ you behind.”
“Bye, bye, bye…”
“Genius idea, Bob.”
“The man wanted a caged bear, we gave him a cage bear. Isn’t that right, Hands?”
Hand grunted and waved his cage-covered paw at the front seat. The dome-shaped decorative bird cage fit perfectly over his enormous right bear paw.
“Might sound crazy, but it ain’t no lie, baby, bye, bye, bye.”
Simultaneously, they locked arms in a fist pump position and danced their fists across their faces in unison with the lyrics.