“It’s true,” Chuck said, rubbing a hand across his stubby red hair and relishing the feel of his new crew cut. “If you rescue a damsel who’s being oppressed, no matter how beautiful she is, she’ll never look at another guy!”
Chuck Helmsey was not the most reliable source of information on girls, but he was at least sincere enough to believe what he told others.
Pete scratched his belly. “Oh,” he said. “It sounds like that kind of job has good benefits.”
The two stood outside a back entrance to Camelot High School, waiting for the new school year to begin.
“Believe it,” Chuck said. “The advantages of being a knight errant are better than any modern way of life. You just can’t trust the establishment anymore. It’s like I was saying, how do we know that men from earth ever set foot on the moon? Just because our history teacher says so? I mean, it could all have been some kind of elaborate hoax to justify a larger budget for new technology research. You know, like a marketing scheme or something?”
“Well, I think we made it to the moon,” Pete said.
“You can buy into it if you want to,” Chuck replied, “but I’m taking up chivalry as a way of life.” His voice deepened. “Let us be off and find our adventure where we may!”
“I don’t know, Chuck,” Pete said, looking toward the door of the bathroom he had so recently vacated. Pete Voit pooped so much, he was known around his hometown as The Eliminator. His gaze dropped to his feet and the feet of his friend. “I was just examining my skid-marks, and, as they say, the omens do not portend good tidings. Besides,” he added, “If you don’t tie your shoes, you’re going to have plenty of adventure on your own.”
Chuck ignored Pete’s remark and drew upon his best King Arthur voice. “Come! We must seize the day! Forsooth, we shall be even as the knights of old.” He stood taller, and a look of bold confidence came over his face. Then, noticing Pete’s sideways glance, he added, “You can be my trusty squire.”
“I guess I don’t mind being a sidekick,” Pete said, “as long as you don’t actually kick me.”
“That’s the spirit,” said Chuck. “Come now, we must away!”
“You go on and be away ahead of me,” said Pete. “Mother Nature is calling me again, and I’ve always heard you can’t fool her.”
In his newfound spirit of adventure, Chuck left his friend to his own devices and found his way to the football field where the school’s football team, The Knights, were gathered in the bleachers around some potential recruits.
“Hey,” shouted Drake, one of the hopefuls, as he pointed at Chuck. “What’s Up-Chuck?”
Drake Wilcox, a burly-chested freshman, had an eye on joining The Knights and was eager to show off in front of the team’s senior members. He and the football players all laughed at Chuck and then resumed their conversation.
Chuck, not understanding the joke, waved a friendly hello and approached the group.
“So, anyway,” Drake said, turning his back on Chuck, “the Knights are really going to rock this year. Especially if I get on the team.”
This blatant show of pride was an affront to Chuck’s newfound convictions, and he decided to give them a lesson on modesty. He struck a pose of humility and addressed Drake and the team:
“Gentlemen!” Chuck shouted. “Let us not be too haughty in our ability, lest we fall on the field of battle and another take our place of honor.”
As he said this, Chuck took another step in their direction and, not having taken Pete’s advice, tripped over his own shoelaces. His arms flew out to his sides and he did a forward flop, landing on his face.
The football players rose to their feet and applauded Chuck, as they jeered and laughed at his expense.
“If you gentlemen will excuse me, I will be pardoned,” Chuck said, rising from the ground and wiping a bit of mud off his chin. He sensed that he must away once more, and quickly.
As he fled behind the bleachers, Chuck ran across Charlene Nelson.
She was lying on her stomach, in the gravel next to the vending machines, weeping. In his hurry, Chuck stepped on her hindquarters. He stopped with his foot still in its offending position.
“Watch it, creep!” she shouted.
“My apologies, Fair Maiden,” Chuck said, and quickly removed his foot from her behind.
Charlene rose to her feet, looking Chuck over.
“What are you, some kind of weirdo?” she asked, her long, straight, blond hair falling gently around her delicate face.
Chuck’s breath caught in his throat. He stood open-mouthed staring at Charlene, mesmerized by her beauty and frailty.
Charlene took a step away from Chuck, wiping her eyes. She bought herself a bottle of pop from the nearby machine. Flustered by her attempt to cover up her emotions, she fumbled in her attempt to get the cap off the bottle.
Chuck was eager to assist. He had never before personally interacted with such an attractive member of the opposite sex.
“Fair Maiden,” he said, reaching for the bottle and touching her hand in the process, “you must press downward and twist in order to remove that cap.”
“I know, Stupid,” Charlene said, pulling the soda away from Chuck and wiping her hand as if it were dirty. “You are a weirdo!”
Chuck ignored the remark. He had found himself a damsel in distress and was intoxicated with the idea of rescuing her from her oppressors. He raised his hands palms upward toward Charlene.
“Who has besieged thee, Fair Maiden? Tell me, that I may wreak my vengeance upon him and tear down the battlements surrounding thy tender heart!” Chuck threw out his small chest. “For on my honor, I shall not rest until thou art this day avenged and all thy foes vanquished!”
Charlene gave Chuck a questioning glance. Drake Wilcox, her ex-boyfriend, had just dumped her in front of the entire school football team. Worn out as she was by the pangs of her heart and the sting of rejection, she was wary of Chuck’s over-eagerness to put his nose into her business. But she needed a sympathetic ear, and his was available. She decided to go ahead and tell him about it. Maybe after that she could get rid of him.
Chuck listened intently to her tale of woe. He was transfixed by her sad tale. She finished with the account of how Drake’s friends had laughed at her when he dismissed her.
When she was silent again, Chuck clenched his fists. He raised his face toward heaven and let out a bloodcurdling shriek as he smote his chest. He paced back and forth in front of Charlene, as she, eyes bugging out, followed his progress.
“If I could awaken the wind,” he raved, “I would blow all this foul stench away. If I could harness the fury of the ocean’s waves,” he continued, “I would wash clean the filthy hearts of men!” Turning back to Charlene, he made a bow, and fixing his eyes on hers said, “My lady, by evening this day you will be avenged. I swear it!”
Charlene, worried now that Chuck might be some sort of rapist or mass murderer, smiled slightly and backed away from him. She turned the corner of the school building still in reverse. As soon as she was out of his sight, she spun around and ran for her life.
Chuck, his mind reeling, did not notice Charlene’s departure. He was thinking about all those large football players he now had to fight. But how could I refuse my lady’s boon? He thought. After all, it’s a matter of honor, and I am a brave knight. What would the knights of old have done?
“One good deed deserves retribution!” he said aloud. He straightened his shirt and squared his puny shoulders. “I must away,” he said. And he did.
He did not go directly to the football field, but to find his trusty sidekick, Pete. He found him still in the bathroom.
The moaning and wailing coming from within stall number two were misinterpreted by Chuck to be the sounds of penitence.
“My trusty squire,” Chuck said, addressing the stall, “I forgive you for not coming with me on my first adventure. But, what think you now? What might be the best way to procure victory against an entire army of knights all stouter than myself?”
“What are you asking me for?” Pete replied. “They don’t teach that kind of stuff in school. Besides, I’m your sidekick, not your strategist.”
Chuck, grieved that he had mistaken the sounds of his friend, and grasping that he was not in the least bit penitent, struck the door of the stall with his fist. “Study your undergarments then, you wailing buffoon!” he shouted, and exited the bathroom.
His heart gave a flutter as he thought once more of Charlene. She called him a weirdo, but Chuck believed she meant it as a term of endearment. Besides, once he had vanquished her oppressors, her heart would be his to command.
“For my lady!” he said. He firmed up his puny shoulders and headed back to the football field.
Back on the field, Drake was hauling two large crates toward his new best friends.
“I’ve been saving these oranges for about a month now,” he said. “They’ve been hidden in the woods getting good and moldy. I figured we could wait until the principal was in his office and sneak up to his open window. We’ll throw the whole smelly mess at the back of his head and run like we’re about to make a touchdown!”
The other players snickered as they huddled around the crates hiding oranges among themselves.
At just that moment, Chuck made his way toward the group, ready to make good on his vow to Lady Charlene.
“Make ready to be set upon!” Chuck cried, surprising the football players, who scrambled to make sure their secret was still hidden. “I will meet each one of you ill-bred vagabonds in the lists, each in his own turn!”
Drake looked at Chuck, then to the other football players, and smiled as a new idea formed in his head. When they returned his smile, he turned back to Chuck.
“Hey, Up-Chuck?” he asked. “You hungry?”
Chuck was taken aback by Drake’s sudden show of friendliness, but when he remembered the tears of his lady; he determined not to be distracted by anything as trivial as friendship.
“No, thank you,” Chuck said firmly. “I’ve already eaten.”
As if this were the cue they had been waiting for, Drake and his cohorts pummeled Chuck with the rank, moldy oranges.
Covered with slime and shocked by this new treachery, Chuck could only stand with his mouth agape and shake in his indignation. Drake, no slouch at sports of any kind, seized the last orange and slammed a fastball through Chuck’s wide-open mouth.
Perhaps it would be better to describe the throw as a slider, because it slid through Chuck’s lips and fairly bashed his tonsils into the back of his head. It left a trail of rotting peel and green fuzz on Chuck’s once shiny teeth.
Gagging vehemently, Chuck turned and raced for the boy’s room. His one hope was that stall number one was still vacant so that he could take up temporary residence next to Pete. Up-Chuck indeed.
The bell which began classes for the first day of school finally tolled. Chuck took so long cleaning up that he only made it to the last fifteen minutes of class. Pete never showed up at all.
At first, Chuck’s teacher did not believe the story he was given. But once he caught a whiff of Chuck in close proximity, he not only excused his tardiness but excused Chuck from the rest of the period as well.
The rest of Chuck’s morning was also filled with excused absences. In the end, Chuck went home to shower and change. He arrived back just in time for lunch.
The students of Camelot High were allowed to eat their lunches wherever they pleased as long as they stayed on campus where they could be monitored (not that the teachers did a very good job of monitoring the student body).
Chuck, a little more cautious in his zeal, but still resolute in his determination to right Charlene’s wrongs, ate quickly. He then headed once more for the football field, where he was sure to find Drake. He found the team eating their lunches in the bleachers.
“I know I’m important,” Drake was saying, “but my boss at the grocery store acts like I’m just some kind of common laborer.”
“You won’t catch me getting a job,” a large fullback named Norman Weaver replied. “Why spoil unemployment with something as stupid as work?”
The joke wasn’t very funny, but Norman was the largest boy in school. He was, in fact, so large that he was known around school as The Bulldozer, or Dozer for short. Drake and the rest of the players all laughed heartily.
So many students ate their lunches out by the field and the bleachers on sunny days that the school put out garbage cans to help keep litter at a minimum. The stands were crowded, and many students were milling around the field. It was under these unfortunate circumstances that Chuck arrived to avenge the harms done to his reluctant lady.
“We are men of high reputation!” Chuck shouted to the startled team. He passed by a half-full garbage can as he moved in front of the section of stands where Drake and the others were located. “Let us sally forth in a tournament for the honor of Lady Charlene!”
This caught Drake’s attention immediately. He may have discarded Charlene, but he wasn’t about to let Up-Chuck Helmsey claim her. People would talk.
Hold it, Up-Chuck!” Drake shouted. “You stay away from Charlene.”
The look on Drake’s face made Chuck pause, but nonetheless, he pressed on.
“I challenge you to a tournament for the honor of Lady Charlene,” Chuck said, as forcefully as he could muster with his bottom lip quivering.
“I don’t know about any tournament,” Drake said coolly, “but somebody’s honor is about to be challenged. Grab him, guys!”
The football team surrounded Chuck. There was no orderly line of opponents courteously waiting their turn to fight him one at a time as he had imagined. He was seized by more hands than he could count, while a crowd of curious students gathered round.
“What are we going to do with him?” Dozer asked.
“I say we tie him to the flag pole and leave him there for the afternoon,” a player named Troy suggested.
“No,” Drake said, “this man, and I use that term loosely, is nothing but a piece of trash. I say we put litter in its place.”
This suggestion pleased the group, and Chuck felt himself being lifted off his feet. He began to kick his legs rapidly as he struggled to get away. More than anything, he wanted to have his feet back on the ground where they belonged.
“Put me down,” Chuck shouted. “I’ll fight you one at a time!”
The group laughed at this. Dozer, getting carried away, grabbed Chuck by the torso. He tore him away from the others and flipped him upside down. Chuck’s legs continued to flail above Dozer’s head as he spun around, shouting, “I’m a windmill! I’m a windmill!”
Dozer continued to spin around until he became so dizzy that he began to stagger. Then he made his way to the garbage can, although it took him a few tries to get there.
“You want down?” Dozer said, “Down you go!”
With that, Dozer deposited Chuck head first into the trash can. Chuck was so dizzy that he could not orient himself. The pail remained upright with Chuck’s lower half protruding from the top. He continued to flail his legs while trying to spit out some uneaten creamed corn which had made its way into his mouth.
“Let me out of here!” Chuck spluttered.
“Hey,” Drake shouted, “let’s clean up the rest of this football field!”
Football players, joined by others who wanted in on the shenanigans, started picking up trash and throwing it into the garbage pail around Chuck. The pail filled up quickly. Drake put on the finishing touch by dumping a mostly uneaten pudding onto Chucks pants between his flailing legs.
Chuck, by rocking his legs back and forth, finally managed to capsize the pail, and came rolling out of it. He was a complete mess, and came up spouting creamed corn from his mouth and nostrils.
“Aberrant knights!” Chuck shouted. He tried to get up, but fell over, still dizzy from Norman’s windmill imitation.
Norman rolled on the ground, incapacitated by dizziness and laughter. The rest of the team gathered around, laughing so hard that many of them had fallen to their knees in the grass.
The warning bell rang as Chuck began to crawl away. “This unseemly behavior is unbecoming to those of our rank,” he muttered. None of the football players heard, though, as they were more concerned with laughing as they made their way to their next class.
Chuck managed to find his way back to the boys’ room.
Pete, still inside, peeked out of the stall to see who had come in.
“You look like a regurgitated taco,” he said.
Chuck said nothing. He used a paper towel to stop the drain of the nearest sink, and then filled it with water and shoved his head into the basin.
“I don’t want to talk about this, ever,” Chuck said after soaking his head. He had used the last of the paper towels to stop-up the sink, so he dabbed himself with large wads of toilet paper in order to clean himself off. His efforts left small lint clumps stuck all over his head and clothes.
“Shouldn’t you go to the nurse?” Pete asked.
“No!” Chuck said.
Pete sat upright in his stall and stifled his laughter, giving off only a snort here and there.
“What ails thee?” Chuck asked, regaining his chivalrous disposition.
“Nothing,” Pete squeaked, trying not to laugh anymore, “just the runs.” He plugged his nose and held his breath until his chest stopped shaking. “What class do you have next?” he finally managed to squeak out.
“History,” Chuck replied, “with Mrs. Ashton.”
“Oh,” said Pete, now fully recovered. “I know about her. If you hear a bloodcurdling scream, it’s only Mrs. Ashton trying to wake up her students. I was walking past her third period class when she let go. It was all I could do to keep from loading my pants. She gave me several new skid-marks to read.”
Chuck never did hear the scream. Or the next three, for that matter. He was so exhausted from his trials during lunch that he slept right through them. Mrs. Ashton finally gave up and removed her class to the library. There were no other classes using her classroom that afternoon, so there was no one to disturb him. Chuck woke up ten minutes before school was over.
“I’m not even going to try to explain this to my teachers,” he said. “I’ll just take detention for cutting.” He thought of giving up his quest, but the words of his oath and the memory of his fair lady’s tears still burned in his heart.
“I shall avenge thee,” he whispered, rising from his seat.
For the last time in his high school career, Chuck made his way to the football field. On his way, he looked around for a weapon. After all, the knights of old had swords, lances, maces and any number of nice little doo-dads to fight with. It was only fair that a modern-day knight should be armed as well.
Of course, he thought, stopping in his tracks. It was no wonder his previous attempts to fulfill his quest had been in vain. All knights must have armor.
With this in mind, Chuck made a quick detour to the groundskeeper’s shack. Inside, he found all he needed ready at hand. He grabbed an old metal bucket that fit completely over his head and cut out the front of it with a pair of tin snips to make his helmet. Neither the bucket nor the tin snips would ever be the same again.
Next, he took some old, discarded downspouting, about a foot long, and cut it in half lengthwise. With some string, he fastened these to his shins for grieves. He found an old plastic garbage can over in the corner and dumped the dirty rags out of it. After cutting a hole in the bottom large enough to fit his head through, and arm holes in the sides, he placed the whole smelly object over his head and stuck his arms out. He placed his bucket helmet on his head with the handle under his jaw as a chinstrap. He was beginning to feel more like a knight already.
He used the plastic lid of the garbage can as his shield. On the floor, he found a length of heavy-duty rubber hose about a foot and a half in length. This he settled on as his cudgel.
“I am now fitted for battle,” he said, holding his shield in front of him and his cudgel high in the air. “Beware the wrath of Sir Chuck!”
At this precise moment the groundskeeper, a small man who usually kept to himself, noticed the door open, and stepped inside to investigate.
Thinking he was alone, Chuck began his battle cry. Striking his shield with his cudgel and kicking his grieves against the fenders of the tractor mower, he arched back his head and began shouting. “I will flog thee! I will embarrass thee!” Then with a grimace that would tame a rabid dog, he turned unwittingly toward the groundskeeper as he pointed his cudgel and screamed, “I will strip away thy manhood and flay thy bloody carcass, Worm!”
The groundskeeper shrieked in terror at this unholy apparition, then turned and fled back out the door he had just entered.
Chuck shrugged his shoulders beneath the garbage can and began marching toward the football field. He spied the entire football team entering the boys’ locker room from the field entrance, and fell into step behind them.
The players did not notice Chuck as he followed them inside. He stood directly behind them, as he once again held high his cudgel.
“Aha! You sturdy knaves!” he shouted with all his might. “I shall abuse all you cheeky bigheads!”
Norman was directly in front of Chuck. When he heard the shout, he turned around to see a living trash heap raising a rubber hose above his head. He jumped in surprise and let loose a fart that would have killed a goat.
“So!” Chuck said sternly. “We’re playing that game, are we?” His cudgel landed a blow across Norman’s right shoulder. Then, in memory of the windmill treatment he was given that afternoon, he let fly three blows so vicious across Norman’s retreating fanny, that Norman’s will faltered and his mind nearly broke. It was all he could take. He fled to a bathroom stall and locked himself inside, where he whimpered quietly until the fight was over.
“Take that, you flatulent beggar!” Chuck yelled after him.
“Look out!” Troy Beacon yelled. “Up-Chuck’s gone berserk!” For his efforts, Troy was given a down-spouting reinforced kick to the groin.
The rest of the team now turned on Chuck.
For each punch blocked with his shield, Chuck returned three fierce blows with the cudgel gripped firmly in his fist.
“I shall insult you!” he hissed, buffeting a wide receiver. “I shall smite thee!” he yelled, browbeating an offensive tackle. “I shall wipe my bottom with your good name!” he shouted, walloping the star quarterback.
Chuck laughed as he all but murdered his enemies. His shrieks filled the room as football players ran helter-skelter into walls and lockers, and up-ended themselves over changing benches.
Then one foe in particular caught Chuck’s eye. It was Drake Wilcox, whose downfall he had sworn to consummate before the close of the day.
Drake took one look at the fire in Chuck’s eyes as he came at him in that ridiculous get-up and decided that he should be somewhere else. Seeing both exits blocked by fallen comrades, he fled to the showers for safety. Frantic to get away, Drake turned on every shower in the room and dodged here and there among them, trying to evade Chuck.
“Oho,” yelled Chuck, brandishing his cudgel, “You can’t get away from me that easy! Prepare yourself to receive a well-deserved thrashing!”
Chuck never was one to keep good balance, emotionally or on a wet surface. In his zeal to avenge Charlene and fulfill his vow, he ran headlong through the shower room.
As his second step landed on the wet tile floor, Chuck decided that he had better check his speed. By his third footfall, he realized it was too late. The resulting shift in his center of gravity on the slippery tiles sent Chuck’s feet out in front of him and his shoulders back. Chuck launched feet first through the air and came to an abrupt halt with each leg astride the opposite side of a shower divider.
“Oomph,” was all he could utter before making a long, forceful sucking sound.
Drake did not wait for Chuck to recover. He ripped the bucket off Chuck’s head, kneeled on the garbage can encasing his chest and boxed Chuck’s face with both fists. When he had spent his fury upon the abnormal knight, he stopped pummeling the lifeless-looking pile of garden supplies and staggered out of the shower room.
As Drake exited the showers, the other players were re-assembling their wits. Here and there, football players were picking themselves up and inspecting their wounds. Wreckage from the fight was strewn all over the locker room, giving the impression that a real battle had occurred there.
“Man,” Norman whined, stroking his rear, “Up-Chuck’s some kind of lethal maniac!”
They headed as a group for the exit.
Not long after the football players had left, Chuck crawled out of his garbage pail and dragged himself, wet and bleeding, out of the shower room. He did not seem to notice that he was alone, but was more concerned with checking his body parts.
“Has anyone seen my other nostril?” he asked, feeling his face with his hand. Getting no answer, he struggled to his feet and slowly made his way to the door.
Outside, the team had re-assembled by the bleachers, and the new school colors were black and blue. They all gave Chuck dirty looks, which he returned until he saw Charlene standing among them. He limped and hobbled his way toward her.
“My lady,” Chuck gurgled, “a word with you.”
“Oh, no!” Charlene said. “Not that freak again!”
“Lady,” Chuck continued, “I am afraid I will not be able to fulfill my quest. I am in need of much rest and possibly medical attention. I must ask to be released from my oath to you.”
“Whatever,” Charlene said, backing away from him. “Just leave me alone.”
“I am only sorry that I cannot avenge the wrongs done you by this cad.” He pointed at Drake.
At this, Charlene burst out laughing. “Are you for real?” she asked. “Don’t you even know? After lunch, Drake and me got back together. He said he couldn’t live without me. So why don’t you go and bleed somewhere else. You’re creeping me out!”
Chuck could not speak. He stared, open mouthed, at Charlene. After all he had done for her, he now realized he meant nothing to her at all.
“Up-Chuck,” Drake said, laughing, “you’re such a loser!”
With great effort, Chuck straightened his shoulders and uttered, “My lady, I take my leave of you.”
He made it three steps before he sank to his knees and began to weep.
The football players shook their heads and ambled off, some of them still moaning in pain. There would be no try-outs today.
Drake put his arm around Charlene’s shoulders and gave one final glance back at Chuck.
“He’s no wimp. I’ll give him that,” he said.
At that very moment, Pete emerged triumphantly from boys’ room, stall number two. Pleased with his accomplishments, he set off to find Chuck.
He found him lying in the end zone in a bloody heap, quietly weeping. Pete knew better than to ask what had happened, though he was puzzled at why his friend was wearing downspouting on his ankles. He shook it off, however, and helped him to a sitting position. Then, taking the shirt off his own back, Pete wiped the blood and tears from Chuck’s face.
“What are you going to do now?” he asked.
Chuck looked up into the kindly eyes of his good friend.
“I’m going into hiding until I heal,” he said. “Then I’ll probably leave the country.”
They both laughed.
“No. Really?” Pete asked. “What now?”
Chuck sat up a little straighter and sighed. Then, resuming a deep voice, he said, “I will take my next adventure wherever it may lie. But as for me, from this day forth, I vow never to take an oath again. I swear!”
He unstrapped his grieves and flung them onto the field.
“How about you, my trusty sidekick?”
“Oh,” Pete said. “I’ll probably hang out with you. At least when I’m not in the bathroom.” He grinned and helped Chuck to his feet.
With an arm on Pete’s shoulder, Chuck slowly hobbled away from the schoolyard. “Maybe we should forget about knighthood and chivalry and become explorers instead,” he said in a quiet voice. “I think we could have safer adventures that way.”
“That sounds like a good idea to me,” Pete said, allowing Chuck to put more weight on his shoulder. “My last set of skid-marks foresaw better tidings after a lifestyle change.”
“Now,” said Chuck, a look of bold confidence returning to his face, “if only I had a ship and a crew of sturdy men, I could prove that the earth was flat!”
Copyright 2008, Eric Calderwood
Revisions and additional material Copyright 2017, Eric Calderwood