Ernest pressed his nose up to the ice cream shop window. His breath fogged up the window and obscured his view, so he wiped it away with his sleeve, squeaking on the. The door was locked tight since Oberon's Creamery wasn't open yet.
Ernest saw a shadow move inside. He banged on the window.
"Mr. Oberon!" Bang, bang, bang! "Can I come in?" he hollered through the window pane.
The shadow looked up and waved. In a moment, the door opened with a tinkling of bells, and Mr. Oberon stood in the door with a smile on his wrinkly face.
"Ernest! You're just in time! I've something to show you," he said. Mr. Oberon's wild white hair was exceptionally wild today. It sprung out from his skull as if he had stuck his finger in an electrical outlet. He wore a grease-stained tan apron over his black pants and crisp, white shirt
Mr. Oberon led the way through the dim ice cream shop. Chairs were flipped over onto the tables and the freshly-scrubbed floor shone in the sunlight from the window. Ernest could hear the hum of the line of freezers that held the ice cream.
"What is it?" asked Ernest. He was used to Mr. Oberon's obscure inventions and ideas. They would work a time or two, then break, and Mr. Oberon would have no idea how to fix it. Most would then sit forgotten in the back of his ice cream shop.
"This way," he motioned with his hand to the back room. He flipped on the light. The room was full of boxes of supplies, old mechanical parts, and the remnants of broken inventions covered in stained sheets, looming over the ice cream supplies like sloppy ghosts. In the corner, next to a row of pink and white striped aprons, a sheet draped over a strange and lumpy shape. It was as tall as Mr. Oberon, and Ernest could see wheels sticking out from under the sheet.
Mr. Oberon walked over to the contraption, and, with a flourish, whipped the sheet off of the machine.
The machine was a puzzle of gears and conveyor belts. It had an arm that ended in an ice cream scope and a stack of bowls nestled in a wire cage sitting at the top. Various nozzles and spouts lined the middle of the machine above a narrow conveyor belt.
"What is it?" Ernest asked. It looked like a mad professor's salad bar.
"It's my latest and greatest invention!" cried Mr. Oberon. "Watch." He flipped a switch and pulled a lever that stuck out of the side.
With a hum and a pop, the machine woke up. The gears turned and the belts spun as the machine jolted and jittered to life. Ernest watched in amazement as a bowl from the cage slipped onto the conveyor belt. The arm with the ice cream scoop swung into action and scooped ice cream from a hidden compartment. The ice cream landed in the bowl with a plop and the conveyor belt kept moving.
It passed under all the spouts and nozzles. Toppings shot out onto the ice cream: chocolate and caramel sauce, crushed peanuts and sprinkles. Whipped cream whizzed from the last nozzle, followed by a red, juicy cherry.
"Ta-da!" said Mr. Oberon. "Isn't it beautiful?"
"That's amazing!" said Ernest. He took the bowl offered by the machine. He lifted a spoonful and ate it. "And delicious."
"I called it the Sundae Assembling Machine, or S.A.M for short." Mr. Oberon turned off the machine and patted the side. "It's my greatest invention yet."
"Are you going to use it in the shop?"
"That's the plan." Mr. Oberon checked his watch. "I don't think it's quite ready yet, but maybe in a couple of days, we'll bring her out for a test run."
Ernest nodded, his mouth full of ice cream.
Mr. Oberon clicked off the machine. "I have to make a quick run to the bank. Would you keep an eye on the shop until I get back? I should be back before it's time to open."
Ernest swallowed. "Sure!" He snuck a nervous glance at S.A.M., but Mr. Oberon didn't notice. He grabbed his jacket and hat and headed out the door with a wave.
Ernest finished the last bite of ice cream and put the bowl on the rack for dirty dishes. The shop was quiet. Ernest could hear the buzzing of the overhead lights.
Suddenly, something banged on the front door.
Ernest walked into the shop and recognized his friend Hank. Hank's nose was pressed up to the window leaving smudges on the glass.
"What are you doing here?" Ernest asked as he opened the door.
"Mr. Oberon said that you had something to show me. I ran into him down the street." Hank's round face was beaming with excitement.
"Back here." Ernest led Hank to the back room and showed him S.A.M.
"That's fantastic!" Hanks said in awe. "What did it taste like?"
"I wish I could have seen it."
"Let me show you," said Ernest. Mr. Oberon wouldn't mind if he showed Hank how the machine worked, and he had to learn how to work the machine eventually. He walked to the side with the lever. A dozen buttons and switches stared back at him.
"Do you know what you're doing?" asked Hank.
" 'Course!" Ernest pulled the lever and pressed a couple of buttons. The machine sprang to life and the conveyor belts started moving. Ernest beamed.
Suddenly, chocolate syrup shot out of one of the nozzles and hit Hank in the eye.
"Hey!" he hollered. He rubbed chocolate sauce from his face.
"Sorry!" cried Ernest. He pressed another button, but instead of scooping ice cream into a bowl, the scooper dropped ice cream onto the floor. It landed with a splat.
"Stop that!" cried Ernest as ice cream continued to hit the floor. He pulled another lever. The machine kicked into high gear and started throwing ice cream and toppings all over the back room. "Oh, no."
"Make it stop!" yelled Hank. He ran and crouched behind a chest freezer. He peeked over at the machine and ducked just as a scoop of mint chocolate-chip came whizzing by his head.
"I'm trying," cried Ernest. He looked around at the front of the machine. Whipped cream sprayed his face.
"Turn it off!" Hank was dripping in melted chocolate ice cream.
"Right!" Ernest yanked on the lever and it snapped off in his hand. "Oh dear."
S.A.M. kept right on serving ice cream and spraying toppings all over. Ernest pressed buttons and flipped switching, but that only seemed to anger S.A.M.
"Help me!" he called to Hank.
Hank ran forward and tried to stop the sauces and toppings from spraying out of the nozzles. S.A.M. shot a cherry at his face.
"It's not working," Hank said, his voice muffled by a cloud of whipped cream.
Ernest tried to attach the lever back on, but it was completely broken. He scanned the shelves for a box of spare parts.
Underneath a tub full of crushed peanuts, he saw a box labeled: PARTS. He ran over and grabbed it off the shelf.
Inside were nuts and bolts, screws and nails, and several pieces he didn't recognize. He pulled out everything and tried to attach the lever back on. Two pieces clicked together and held the lever in place.
"I think I got it!" Ernest stood and pulled the lever. It fell onto the floor with a clang.
The machine kept clunking along merrily. Ice cream covered the floor and walls. Hank was buried under melting ice cream and chocolate sauce. "Is there an override switch?"
"Good idea!" Ernest searched the machine, now covered in dripping ice cream, for an override switch. He spotted a red switch at the base of S.A.M. He flipped it.
S.A.M. buzzed angrily. It exploded in activity; everything sped up and went twice as fast.
"What are we going to do?" cried Ernest. He was laying on the ground covering his head from flying ice cream.
Suddenly he spotted something. He couldn't believe it! He jumped up and raced around to the back of S.A.M., dodging a ball of butter pecan, he slipped and slid across the sundaes. When he got the wall he reached down and pulled the plug.
S.A.M. stopped immediately.
Silence filled the room interrupted by the occasional drip, drip of melting ice cream. Ernest sighed in relief.
Ernest jumped. His heart sank into his knees. Mr. Oberon stood in the doorway. His mouth was hanging open and his eyes were as wide as saucers.
"I'm so sorry!" Ernest slid over to Mr. Oberon. "I wanted to show Hank the machine and somehow I broke it." He offered the lever still in his hand. Something pink and sticky dripped down the side of the lever.
"Uh-huh." Mr. Oberon looked around the room in a daze.
The back room was covered in sticky, melted ice cream. Chocolate and caramel sauces had sprayed everywhere, and crunchy peanuts and red cherries swam in puddles of pink and white and brown. It smelled overly sweet.
Ernest felt terrible. Hank stood and came slipping and sliding over. "We'll clean it up. All of it. And we'll help you fix S.A.M."
Ernest nodded. He rubbed ice cream out of his eyes.
"Right." Mr. Oberon said. He shook his head at the room. Suddenly, he started chuckling. "There are mops and buckets in the closet. I have to open the store."
He left Ernest and Hank to clean. They found the supplies and got to work. They could hear customers talking and laughing. The cash register pinged with activity. They slopped the mops around until the backroom gleamed again.
When they finished, they came out into the shop. Mr. Oberon was wiping down his counter. A small family sat in a corner booth eating their sundaes.
"All done, boys?"
They nodded as they sat at the counter. Hank's cheeks were pink and Ernest was biting his lip.
Mr. Oberon smiled. He fixed two sundaes and slid them down to the boys. "Maybe next time wait until I can show you how to use it."
"Yes, sir." Ernest and Hank grinned as they ate their ice cream.