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The Fountain of Truth

Norman started to shake again. “That guy is for real,” he said. “We’re trapped in here and he’s going to burn us all down!”

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“The Fountain of Truth?” Pete asked. “What’s that?”

“It’s a legendary fountain discovered by Ponce De Leon,” replied Chuck. “Whoever drinks from it will learn the truth about everyone around him. Ponce De Leon saw it from far off, but never pinpointed its exact location.”

Pete had learned to be wary of Chuck’s ideas. At the beginning of the school year, Chuck had decided to become a knight and had gotten himself beaten to within half an inch of his life by the entire high school football team.

“If it’s that good,” Pete said, “how come no one else has ever found it?”

“Because,” Chuck said, “the fountain only spouts intermittently like a geyser. It reveals itself only to those worthy explorers who seek after it with a humble attitude and a quiet heart.”

“Oh,” said Pete, “I’m usually pretty humbled and quiet by the time I get off the toilet.”

To say that Pete pooped a lot would be an understatement. Pete spent so much of his day on the toilet that the kids in school, and even the adults around town, often referred to him as “The Eliminator.”

For a while he had believed that he could read the future in the skid marks on his underwear. Now he was convinced that an alien race was trying to communicate with him using the marks as a sort of “fecal hieroglyphics.”

“My dad just installed this new toilet in our house with a power flusher so I won’t plug it up so much anymore,” Pete continued. “It saves me a lot of time plunging, so I’ve got some free time right now. Maybe we can be as famous as that Ponce Delicatessen guy and discover the Fountain of Truth.”

“Then it’s decided,” said Chuck, squaring his shoulders and puffing out his puny chest. “We leave at once on our great journey of discovery!”

Chuck and Pete made quite a pair as they strode off together toward adventure. Chuck was slightly taller than most other boys his age, but made up for his height by being wiry and rather small chested. He had bright red hair, which was cut short in a crew cut. A thin line of light red fuzz adorned his upper lip in what he considered a mustache. His long arms hung limp from his puny shoulders and jostled strangely to his irregular, lanky gait.

Pete, on the other hand, was somewhat shorter than Chuck. His shoulders were wide and strong from lifting weights, but his belly was round and loose from overeating and slouching. He did all his weight lifting lying down. He had dark brown hair, not too long, parted on the right side. His steps were shorter than Chuck’s, but with years of practice getting to the bathroom on time, Pete had learned to walk faster than normal boys and had no problem keeping pace with Chuck.

“I’ve brought along a box of stationery to keep a log of our adventures,” Chuck was saying, “but can we stop by your house and borrow your dad’s axe? I don’t think we can be explorers without an axe.”

“Sure,” Pete replied, “I want to pick up a roll of toilet paper anyway, just in case.”

After stopping at Pete’s house for the axe and toilet paper, Chuck and Pete made their way toward the wooded lot behind the town water treatment plant.

“It’s no vast unexplored wilderness,” Chuck said, as they entered the wood, “but it will have to do until we can find a new continent to discover.”

It was a warm, sunny, fall day with only a hint of coolness on the light, occasional breeze that tousled Pete’s hair and rippled Chuck’s oversized T-shirt. Chuck led the pair as they tramped their way through the fallen leaves of maples, oaks, poplars, and pines. The path they followed grew steeper, and their steps grew slower as they panted for breath. A gray squirrel startled them as it rustled through the leaves, bounding to the relative safety of a nearby dogwood tree. At the top of the steep hill, they forced their way through a thick stand of small sumac trees until they saw the large, fenced-in expanse of the water treatment plant’s aeration pond spread out in the distance below them.

“Why is it fenced in?” Pete asked.

“They’ve obviously got something to hide,” Chuck answered.

A narrow, rushing brook surged past the aeration pond just outside the fence. At one point, the brook’s path changed course as it flowed around a small peninsula of land bordered by the fence. This point of land was dotted with thick bushes, tall grass, and various small trees, all of which were towered over by a large oak growing close to the fence line.

Chuck studied the landscape before him and then froze.

“Do you see that!” he said, pointing.

Pete followed Chuck’s gaze and took a second look at the large oak tree.

“Oh,” Pete said. “I see it now. It’s a tree clubhouse.”

“That’s not just any clubhouse,” Chuck said, straightening as he spoke. “That’s an impenetrable fortress just waiting to be conquered. Long ago a great explorer, perhaps Ponce De Leon himself, built that fortress to protect some hidden treasure. Now its current occupants, worthy or not, doubtless hold the key to some great mystery.”

“I don’t like it when you talk like that,” Pete said. “Whenever you talk like that, we get into trouble.”

“It may even be that this fortress was left here to guard the secret location of the Fountain of Truth, itself!” Chuck concluded, ignoring Pete’s remark.

“If I get hurt, I’m going to turn your nose into a fountain,” Pete replied.

His face radiant, Chuck turned his back toward Pete and started his descent toward the peninsula. “Let us investigate!”

“Alright,” Pete said, following. “Let’s go see if we can find your old fountain and get it over with. I’ve got an ache in my belly, and if I don’t hurry home soon those aliens are going to start conversing again.”

 

Their path led them to a fallen tree, which lay across the gurgling stream and onto the grassy peninsula in front of the large oak tree. The wind picked up again and ruffled the dry leaves of the tall oak, filling the air with an almost mechanical noise that heightened Chuck’s sense of adventure.

“Are you sure this thing is safe?” Pete asked, giving the fallen tree a shove with his foot to see if it would move. It rocked slightly, but settled back into place.

“An explorer is interested in discovery, not safety,” Chuck replied, approaching the tree. “I wonder how deep this moat is,” he mused aloud, stepping onto the tree. The stream was at its narrowest at this point, and Chuck could not make out the bottom. “Perhaps the secret guarded by yonder fortress is hidden in the river itself.”

Chuck continued boldly out onto the tree trunk, slowing his pace only when the tree rocked under his steps.

Pete, who was stuck carrying the axe as well as his toilet paper, ventured out more cautiously. “You would think such a great explorer could at least build a little bridge,” he muttered.

The stream made the pair somewhat dizzy as they watched it rush by beneath their feet. They made use of old rotten limbs that protruded from the decaying trunk to steady themselves as they progressed.

As they reached the other side and stepped onto solid ground again, Chuck was the first to regain his composure. He stood straight, surveying the fortress before him.

Pete stood panting, hugging the roll of toilet paper to his chest. To look upon him in this posture, one could tell just how dearly he valued this treasure.

Staring up at the clubhouse, Chuck had just enough time to catch a glimpse of a drinking straw pointing out a window before the spit-wad smacked him in the forehead and startled him off balance. He dropped his stationery box as he grabbed his forehead. Taking one step backward, he tripped, and fell into the river with a big splash.

“That’s one way to find out how deep it is,” said Pete. “Are you looking for the river’s secret?”

Pete gazed up to where Chuck had been looking. His eyes fixed upon the clubhouse window, and then grew wide with surprise. Two football players inside the window were steadying a balloon catapult. Drake Wilcox, this year’s star high school quarterback, was pulling back a water balloon aimed at Pete’s midsection. Pete had time only to mutter, “Uh, oh,” before the balloon impacted against his chest with a “ka-sploosh!”, which toppled him over into the river. He erupted to the surface next to Chuck, floundering violently and gasping for air.

“No secrets in here,” Pete said, after spitting out a mouthful of water. “I think I may need some of that toilet paper I brought along. But I’m afraid it won’t do me any good now.” He raised an arm out of the water and tossed the completely soaked roll of toilet paper onto the grassy ground in front of them. It landed with a dull thud and settled in place right where it had landed. With his other arm Pete raised the axe above his head and, grasping the handle firmly with both hands, he sank the blade deep into the grassy bank above him. He used the handle to pull himself out of the water, then rolled away from the bank’s edge, sloshing onto shore.

Chuck was still struggling to get out of the water, so Pete grabbed one of his arms and helped pull him up onto the grassy bank. When another water balloon exploded nearby, they scrambled into some thick bushes for cover. Chuck, having regained his still-dry box of stationery, was now hunched down under a bush scribbling furiously on one of the sheets of paper.

“What are you doing?” Pete asked, crawling closer to him.

Chuck answered without looking up from his work. “I am making out my last will and testament.”

“What are you doing that for?” Pete asked.

Sounding annoyed as he paused to glare at Pete, Chuck replied, “I am about to embark on a dangerous assault of yonder impenetrable fortress. If I do not return, I want all of my worldly possessions to go to the one person I love the most.”

Pete grinned. “You’re leaving everything to me?”

Chuck frowned. “I’m leaving everything to Charlene.”

The smile left Pete’s face. He knew all about Charlene. She was the cause of all Chuck’s problems. He was completely infatuated with her, and she completely despised him. It was her honor Chuck had almost died defending when he challenged the whole football team to a duel at the beginning of the school year. Chuck did not believe he could live without her. Pete did not believe Chuck would live much longer anywhere near her.

As Chuck finished his last will and testament, he had Pete sign as a witness and then kissed the paper before putting it back in the small stationery box. He tied it shut with a ribbon, wrote Charlene’s name on the outside, and hugged it briefly against his chest. He then turned toward Pete.

“I entrust this to you for safekeeping,” he said, holding out the box. “If I should meet my end in this endeavor, please give it, and my love, to Charlene.” Chuck bowed deeply and reverently as he said this. Then he turned away from Pete and peeked cautiously from the bushes to assess the fortress for weaknesses.

“How do you know you are really in love with Charlene?” Pete asked, not too impressed with the package he was holding. “You two don’t even get along.”

Chuck placed his hand over his heart and sighed. “When you are in love with someone,” he said, “you will willingly endure more abuse from that person than you could ever conceivably hope to receive from your worst enemy and still keep coming back for more, on your very knees if necessary.”

“I guess I must be in love with my English teacher then,” Pete said. “She yells at me so much her face turns purple, but I still keep coming back to her class every day for more. Do you think I should buy her some flowers?”

Chuck shook his head and resumed his silent vigil on the clubhouse.

Pete, getting no answer, glanced at Chuck, shrugged his shoulders, and tossed the box deep into the bushes. He was then startled by a crackling noise in the brush nearby. He tapped Chuck on the shoulder and motioned for him to be quiet, then pointed in the direction of the noise.

Emerging from the bushes on the other side of the small clearing was Norman Weaver, nicknamed Dozer, the fullback of the high school football team, and the largest boy in school.

Although Norman feared no other high school student, his knees went weak whenever he was in close proximity to Chuck Helmsey. In the fight, and consequent melee, that had taken place between Chuck and the football team at the beginning of the school year, Chuck had beaten Norman so severely with a rubber hose that Norman still woke up sweating in the middle of the night whenever he happened to dream about it. Chuck may have been small, but Norman considered him a madman. Even worse, he was a madman with no thought to his own personal safety. In Norman’s mind, this made Chuck more dangerous than any number of boys twice his size.

“Yo, Up-Chuck,” Norman said, backing away slowly and waving his hands in the air, “no time, long see.”

Seeing Norman was one thing; Chuck passed him in the hallways at school several times a day. But, after just having taken a plunge in the river at the hand of his adversaries, to hear Norman use the derogatory nickname the football team had given him was more than Chuck’s overzealous sense of justice could handle. Here was one of his enemies, alone and unprotected in the woods, and Chuck would not waste the opportunity!

Chuck grabbed a tall, sturdy, dry weed, and pulled it from the ground, roots and all. He held it before him like a lance, a large clod of dirt still clinging to its roots, and smiled at Norman.

Norman did not wait for a challenge. He was well aware that Chuck, plus anger, equaled pain. He took off at a run, weaving around trees and thundering through bushes, screaming at the top of his powerful lungs.

Chuck followed at a breakneck pace, eager to have his revenge. Pete, emboldened by Chuck’s display of bravado, gave chase as well. The three boys scattered across the island, racing pell-mell toward oblivion.

Chuck lost track of Norman for a second, but hearing movement in a nearby bush, he lowered his lance and charged straight toward the bush, laughing madly. He tightened his grip on the lance and gave a final burst of speed as he closed in on his prey. Driving himself into the bush, Chuck impaled the target with his clod-covered lance. As the weapon sank home, Chuck could swear he heard Pete screaming somewhere close at hand.

“What have those devils done to my fellow explorer?” he wondered aloud.

Norman, appearing ten feet away from Chuck, as he exited some altogether different undergrowth, upon seeing Chuck lodged in a bush, reversed his direction and headed full speed for the large oak tree, pleading for its occupants to let him in.

A trap door in the bottom of the tree clubhouse dropped open. Three slat steps nailed to the back of this door had a sturdy rope ladder attached, which was lowered to Norman by Drake.

Norman, never very good at the rope ladder, grasped furiously at Drake in his hurry to clamber up the ladder into the appealing safety of the clubhouse. His flailing arms caused Drake to drop the water balloon catapult, which fell to the ground below. Norman shimmied the rest of the way into the clubhouse, and pulled closed the trapdoor behind him, latching it shut.

“Nice going, Numbskull,” Drake said, upset at the loss of his catapult. “Now what are we going to blast them with?”

Norman, still shaking from his close encounter with Chuck, could only shrug his shoulders and whimper.

Chuck, giving up his fight with the bush, took a peek around it, and was surprised to find Pete’s talking end hanging out the other side.

“What are you doing there?” Chuck asked.

“Get that thing out of my caboose!” Pete screamed at him.

Chuck dislodged his lance from Pete’s hinder parts and then dislodged Pete from the bush. Almost at once he wished he hadn’t.

Pete had a look on his face that Chuck had never seen before.

“Let’s talk this through logically, Pete!” Chuck said, already running. “We may still discover the Fountain of Truth, or perhaps even a new continent.”

“I don’t know about any continent,” Pete said, “but when I catch you, I’ll beat you ‘till you’re incontinent!”

As he ran from Pete, Chuck tried to duck under a log, but ran head first into it, and dropped in his tracks.

Pete stood over him, about to bloody his nose, when he caught sight of the balloon catapult.

“What’s this,” he said, leaving Chuck’s inert form and walking over to the fallen sling. He picked it up. “It looks like a giant’s jock strap,” he said.

“That’s no sports device,” said Chuck, struggling to recover himself. “It is a noble weapon which fate has cast into our hands. Now we have the means to wage war on yonder fortress!”

Inside the lofty walls of the fort, Drake looked around him for something to use against Chuck. He still had plenty of water balloons, but it just didn’t seem as appealing without the catapult. Then his eyes fell on the many cans of paint the boys had been collecting for the clubhouse. Three different colors of exterior weatherproof paint. They had picked dark brown, green, and sandy brown to camouflage their fort, but Drake had something different in mind now.

“Help me out!” he shouted. “Get this paint loaded into as many water balloons as possible!”

“But aren’t we painting the clubhouse with these?” Troy Beacon asked.

“Forget the clubhouse,” Drake said. “I’m going to paint Up-Chuck Helmsey!”

Drake was tall and well-built, with brown eyes and dirty-blond hair. Although he was only a freshman and the youngest of the team, his superior ability in sports of any kind had already earned him a place on “The Knights,” Camelot High School’s football team, as their new quarterback. The respect he had earned inspired others to follow him.

Working as fast as possible, Drake and the other team members got their barrage of paint bombs ready. Charlene Connolly, Drake’s girlfriend and Chuck’s bane, watched on with mild interest as she pet her new dog, Pumpkin.

Charlene was of medium height and very slender. She had a delicate face set with bright blue eyes and framed by long beautiful blond hair. Half the school was jealous of Drake for having her as his girlfriend; the other half wanted to be his girlfriend.

Charlene’s new dog, Pumpkin, was a pug. He spent most of his time eating or sleeping. The rest of his time was devoted to licking his hindquarters. He was busy at this endeavor as Charlene pet him. She thought it was cute.

Drake climbed onto the roof of the fort to gain a better vantage point for his attack. As he waited for the balloons to be filled with paint and passed up to him, he watched as Chuck busied himself below.

Chuck buried the posts of the captured weapon deep into the ground, and then loaded the sling with the sopping-wet roll of toilet paper. With Pete’s help, he pulled back on the device and took aim at the window of the clubhouse.

They used so much force pulling the sling back that they both fell over when they let it go. With a great “whoosh” that sounded almost like a rocket being launched, the heavy, waterlogged toilet paper “missile” surged through the air straight for the clubhouse.

Their aim was off and they missed the window, but achieved a spectacular and satisfying result. The toilet paper “bomb” exploded against the side of the thin plywood wall, tearing a large hole in it and covering everyone inside with shredded globs of wet toilet paper, and not a few splinters of plywood. The splintered plywood had the added effect of ripping apart most of the paint-filled balloons and covering everyone inside with camouflage markings.

Chuck and Pete cheered at the damage and Chuck shouted, “Take that and wipe your dreary bottoms, you diuretic freaks!”

Drake climbed down off the roof and stood on a platform outside the clubhouse window. When he saw the damage done to his fort and the mess inside where the rest of his friends were still screaming, he turned toward Chuck in a rage.

“Up-Chuck, you homicidal maniac!” he shouted. “You could have killed someone! Besides, do you know how much that plywood cost? When I catch you I’m gonna rip your guts out and patch that hole with your carcass!”

Chuck, still laughing, picked a new clod-covered lance in answer to what he perceived as a challenge.

“Climb on down and do your best to keep your promise, vagabond!”

Drake did not respond to Chuck’s taunt, but remained on the platform and surveyed his options.

Chuck turned to Pete. “Get me another projectile” he said. “I don’t suppose you could find a fresh cow pie in the vicinity,” he added, an evil grin forming on his face.

“Sorry,” Pete said, “I don’t know what a vicinity is, but we’re all out of meadow muffins. I did just narrowly avoid stepping in some fresh deer doodles a moment ago, though. Give me a moment and I’ll gather them up.”

Pete used a couple of leaves to deposit the still moist deer droppings into the sling.

“That’s just nasty!” Chuck said, examining the new warhead. “Although they do say that all is fair in love and war.”

Drake, from his vantage point on the platform, could see the whole, ugly operation unfolding below. He decided to beat a hasty retreat back into the clubhouse, but tangled instead with a mass of forked tree branches. The more he struggled to free himself, the more firmly he lodged his head and neck in the process. In his distress, he began to kick his legs, which now dangled a full six inches above the platform.

“Help,” he managed to choke out. “Get me down from here!”

Seeing such a promising target for Pete’s new projectile, Chuck couldn’t help but gloat. “Hey there, Absalom,” he crowed, “up to your old trick with tree branches I see. Perhaps your donkey is around here somewhere? Well, I won’t be as kind as Joab. I’m going to strike you through with something deadlier than any number of spears.”

Still struggling, Drake worked all the more furiously to remove his head from the branches. In doing so, he managed to rip his shirt and tear some hair off of his scalp, but only made things worse with the branches.

Chuck leered up at Drake with a malicious smile as he reveled in anticipation of his impending victory. Perhaps after this, Charlene would see him as the hero he was, rather than just some weirdo.

Pete pulled back on the sling containing the unholy projectile while Chuck stood below the deck of the clubhouse still gazing at his target in a rapture of delight. When Pete had the catapult as far back as he could possibly get it, he aimed directly for Drake’s face. Then, with a “slosh,” he slipped in some mud. The catapult dragged him along behind it through the muck until Pete had the presence of mind to let go. His angle of trajectory changed, the missile launched through the air, and almost immediately it slammed into the back of Chuck’s head with an appalling “splat!”

Drake, having finally ripped himself free from the tree’s stranglehold, lowered himself back onto the platform. Looking down at Chuck, he almost fell off the platform as he shook with laughter.

“Up-Chuck, my man!” Drake shouted. “You are too much! You have just invented a stylish new hair gel there, buddy! Now we just need to name it and patent it, so we can all be rich!” He paced back and forth on the short platform, scratching his chin. “What shall we call it? Hmmm, let’s see, how about Death from Above?” He shook his head, then stopped and snapped his fingers. “I’ve got it! We’ll call it Dippity DooDoo!” He broke into another laughing fit and had to hold on to the window frame to keep from falling.

Chuck started to shake, first his hands, then his chest, and then his whole body. He grabbed a handful of the substance from off the top of his head and flung it at Drake, just missing him. Drake stopped laughing long enough to climb back through the window into the clubhouse. He’d rather be painted than pooped on.

In his rage, Chuck looked earnestly for a way to get into the tree fort to pummel Drake. Finding none, he stomped the ground and shook his fist at him. “If I can’t come up,” he shouted, “then down you’ll come!”

Surveying the fortress, Chuck found that the trunk of the tree was larger than he could reach around with the full length of his arms. There were no branches for at least ten to twelve feet, but the base of the tree, on the back side toward the fence, had been eaten away by termites and rot, and there was a gaping hole large enough for him to climb inside. Still, the whole thing looked very sturdy and imposing.

Next, he ran his eyes along the base of the fort. He located the trap door that Norman had been pulled through. He also discovered a large, sturdy log about six inches around lying on the ground along the fence line. Finding it sufficient in length, he shoved it under the downward-opening door, trapping his victims inside the clubhouse. Although there was a window on each side of the clubhouse, he saw no apparent way down.

Growing bored, Pete had seen enough of the clubhouse for one day. He sat down behind a bush and studied the stream.

With a look of bold determination, Chuck called up to his hostages, “Either I get a kiss from Charlene, or I’m going to take down this tree with all of you inside!”

Charlene’s eyes popped open wide and she shouted, “I’d rather kiss my dog’s rear-end!”

Drake followed with, “Shut it, Up-Chuck!”

“That’s it!” Chuck yelled. “This whole tree is coming down!”

He began by making a massive pile of leaves, twigs, and sticks inside the termite infested hole. From how deep it went, Chuck was surprised at the strength of the remaining tree. “You’ve been warned,” he said, and set fire to the leaves.

Inside the fort, Norman started to shake again. “That guy is for real,” he said. “We’re trapped in here and he’s going to burn us all down!”

“Get the rest of the paint bombs and whatever is left in the paint cans,” Drake said. “Maybe we can put out the fire with what’s left.”

“OK,” Norman said, “but I don’t think there’s anything that can stop that freak once he decides to do something crazy.”

Thick black smoke began pouring into the sky.

Chuck ran to the bank of the stream and retrieved the axe from where Pete had left it. He raced back to the tree, and with no thought to possible consequences, began chopping away at the front of its trunk. His wild, angry blows sent huge chips flying everywhere, and the smoke from the crackling fire made the hostages teary-eyed as they started to cough and choke. He stopped, from time to time, to gather his chips and throw them into the fire.

“Uh, oh!” Drake shouted. “If he does cut this tree down, we’ll land right in the middle of the aeration pond.”

“Well, what can we do about that now?” Norman yelled. “Even if we could get out, that maniac has an axe!”

From where he was sitting, Pete could hear Charlene and the team members coughing and pleading for help as Chuck worked away in a perfect fury of blows. Pete shrugged his shoulders and continued watching the stream.

The desperate hostages threw all their remaining paint bombs at the base of the tree. Drake dumped the last of the paint on Chuck and even threw the cans at him.

Chuck laughed at their efforts with a dry, bitter laugh that sent chills down their spines. “With what’s already covering my head,” he said, “do you think a little paint is going to bother me?”

Inside the fort, the discouraged hostages held one last council of war. Covering their mouths and noses the best they could, they wiped their eyes, and gasped out their arguments.

“So what if we fall in the pond?” Norman said. “At least we won’t burn to death. So we get a little wet. So what?”

“It’s an aeration pond, genius,” Drake answered with a cough. “It’s full of raw sewage.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Norman demanded, rubbing his eyes.

“It means,” Drake said, “that when you get done doing your business on the can and push the little flusher, all your hard work pops up in that little pond over there.”

Norman’s eyebrows rose an inch.

“Not only that,” Drake continued, after another coughing fit, “but when they finish with it here, they send it back to you as drinking water! How’s that for recycling?”

“Well, I’ll be an Uncle’s Monkey!” Norman said.

“I think you mean an Unkey’s Monkle,” one of the other players chipped in.

The lack of wholesome air was getting to them, and the boys started laughing, at least as much as they could, between gasps and coughing spells.

“Will you idiots shut up!” Drake shouted, in a raw voice. “We’ve got to think of something fast, or we’re all going to take a bath in your stupid Monkey’s Uncle poop!”

“Well, we can’t stay trapped in here with that fire going, either,” Norman said. “How ‘bout it Charlene? How bad can one little kiss be?”

Tears were streaming out of Charlene’s eyes from all the smoke in her face. “Nobody mentions this to anyone at school. Ever!” she answered. “And tell him to wash his hair in the stream first.”

Without asking Drake what he thought, Norman leaned out the window and screamed down at Chuck. “For heaven’s sake, man! We give up! Charlene will give you a kiss if you just wash your hair in the stream. Now please stop chopping!”

When the plea sounded, Pete decided that this new development was less boring than the stream. He ambled back over to see how Chuck would answer.

Chuck sunk the head of the axe into the tree one last time and left it there. “Did Charlene say so?” he demanded.

Several teammates wasted no time assuring him that she had. Satisfied, Chuck made his way down to the stream.

He plunged his head under the water and rubbed furiously with his hands. The paint was easier to remove than the plastered deer doodles, which seemed embedded in his scalp. Try as he might, he could not get the foul material completely out of his hair, but he got rid of the majority of it.

Taking his shirt off and turning it inside out, he found the cleanest part with which he could dry his face and hair. When he finished he threw the shirt on the ground, never to pick it up again.

He hurried back to the foot of the tree and shouted, “OK, how do I get up?” By this time the frantic and choking hostages had cut the rope ladder loose from the inside of the jammed trap door. They threw one end out the window to Chuck. “Use this,” Drake yelled, as he leaned down to hold the ladder low enough for Chuck to reach it. Four football players held onto Drake’s waist to keep him from falling.

“I don’t trust you to hold it,” Chuck shouted. “I want Pete to be in charge of it.”

The hostages moaned, but searched the smoke-filled clubhouse until they found a length of old frayed rope long enough to tie to the rope ladder. This they threw over a sturdy branch to Pete, who now waited below.

“There!” Drake yelled. “Satisfied? Now get up here before we change our minds and decide to burn to death instead!”

Chuck handed the rope to Pete. “I’m trusting you to hold this firmly until I reach the platform.”

Pete took the rope and wound the end of it around his hands, taking a stance like someone determined to win a tug-of-war. “OK,” he said, “but if I strain too hard it’s going to be alien hieroglyphics again.”

Chuck tugged twice on the rope ladder and began his ascent. As he did so, he said a prayer to the saint of sturdy grips and strong twine, if there was one.

Pete held onto the rope until he thought Chuck was up to the window. It would have been better if he had looked to make sure before he let go of the rope.

Chuck landed on his back and had the wind knocked out of him. When he had regained his composure, he cast a disgusted glance at Pete. “Do a better job this time,” he said.

Pete shrugged his shoulders by way of apology, and tossing the rope over the branch, took his stance once more.

The ladder twisted and turned, as Chuck began climbing again. This made him slightly dizzy, nevertheless he pressed on toward his prize.

When he finally gained the platform and reached the window, he nodded to Pete to let go of the rope. Chuck didn’t want anyone else using the ladder until he had received what he came for. He turned and knocked on the window frame. “It is I,” he said, “Chuck the Brave, conqueror of this fortress and all its surrounding lands. I now demand my kiss!”

“I don’t care if he is an explorer, a knight, or just a plain lunatic,” Charlene whispered to Drake. “I don’t want to kiss Chuck. Not now! Not ever!”

Drake whispered back to Charlene, “Hold on, I read about something like this once. Tell him to close his eyes.”

As Chuck stood on the platform, eagerly awaiting his reward, Charlene clambered out the window and stood next to him. “I agreed to kiss you,” she said, “but it’s on one condition.”

“You have only to name it, my lady,” Chuck replied.

“I’ll kiss you on the lips, but you have to close your eyes. I get nervous when people look at me while I’m kissing.”

“It is but a small condition,” Chuck said with a bow, “I will obey it as a command.”

Chuck moved closer to Charlene, hoping she would not notice the putrid smell emanating from his new hair gel. Then he closed his eyes.

Once Chuck’s eyes were closed, Drake touched Charlene on the shoulder and handed her the pug puppy, which had just finished licking its hindquarters again. He made motions to her, which she grasped immediately.

“Are you ready?” she asked.

“I have been ready since the day we met, my lady,” Chuck replied.

“OK,” she said, “no peeking. Here we go!” She pressed her dog’s lips firmly to Chuck’s and watched wide eyed as Chuck kissed them. Pumpkin licked Chuck’s lips a time or two before Charlene pulled the puppy away and handed it back through the window to Drake.

“Well, how did you like it?” Charlene asked, grinning.

“It was a good kiss,” Chuck said with a sour smile, “but your lips didn’t taste quite like I had expected.”

Pete, who had watched the whole thing in silence, on account of his no longer being able to control the function of his wide-open mouth, regained his composure and said, “I think you just drank a bowl full of goose farts.”

Charlene laughed heartily at this.

Drake held Pumpkin’s rear-end out the window and pantomimed kissing motions. “Want another kiss, Up-Chuck?” he said, “Pumpkin is eager for more!”

The clubhouse full of boys resounded with laughter.

“That was very unkind,” Chuck told Charlene. Then he blew a gasket in his mind.

Enraged by being tricked and humiliated by his one and only true love, Chuck shook the tree without regard to his own safety or even to that of Charlene’s.

As Chuck shook the weakened tree, it swayed wildly even as the fire in the base was still burning and blazing away. Charlene was forced to squat down on the ledge to keep from falling to the ground.

Suddenly, the air was filled with sharp popping noises, one following the other in rapid succession. There was a pause, a groan of wood against wood, and then Chuck, Charlene, and the clubhouse full of miscreants, tilted wildly and rode the falling tree as it crashed down into the aeration pond.

The fall of such a large, heavy tree made a splash as high as a two-story house. Pete, looking at it in wonder from where he stood, still safe on the peninsula, shouted, “Look! Chuck! I see it! You were right, you’ve discovered the Fountain of Truth!”

The football players inside the clubhouse were all plunged beneath the water when the fort went under. Here and there, players could be seen swimming out from under the tree, coughing and spluttering, while Pumpkin popped up and began doing the doggy paddle.

Chuck and Charlene had managed to remain on the front face of the clubhouse, which now served as a floor and the only remaining part of the fort above water.

Charlene had unknowingly grabbed hold of Chuck for extra support while the tree was falling, and was now lying by his side, still clinging to him. Realizing this, she let out a short screech and pushed him away in disgust.

Chuck, heartened by this new turn of events, stood up, placed one foot on the remains of the fallen fort he had conquered, and struck a pose of victory. He was just about to give his best Tarzan yell when he was grabbed and pulled into the water, then ducked under its surface, first by Drake, and then, one after the other, by the rest of the team.

Chuck came up sputtering and coughed out a mouthful of the foul muck. “You reprobates!” he shouted, and then swam farther into the pond, away from the football team.

“I don’t think you needed to drink from that old fountain to learn the truth about those around you,” Pete said. “I knew they were reprobates before we even left your house.”

After retrieving Chuck’s box from behind the bushes, Pete carefully made his way out the tree trunk to where Charlene, alone, was left standing.

“Here,” Pete said, holding out Chuck’s box to Charlene.

“What’s this?” Charlene asked, as she reached for it.

“Chuck wanted you to have it,” Pete replied as she took hold of it. “He said something about it being his last willing tenement.”

Charlene pushed the box away. “I don’t want anything to do with that creep!” she said.

In her haste to be convincing, Charlene pushed the box a little too eagerly. In order to recover her balance, she moved one foot back. But, instead of finding a firm surface, she stepped into the window hole in the face of the fort. She flailed her arms wildly and hopped once in her last desperate effort to keep upright. Unfortunately for her, she hopped in the wrong direction and fell with a splash into the center of the group of boys already splashing around in the aeration pond.

“That’s one small step for a woman,” Pete said, “and one giant leap for Miss Unkind.”

He turned and carefully made his way back across the tree trunk to solid ground. “Where are you going?” Chuck shouted.

Pete shouted back to him, “You’d better get out of there quick. I’m going home to add to this mess, and with the new power flusher my dad just installed, it won’t take long for it to get here, either!”

Copyright 2010, Eric Calderwood

Revisions and additional material Copyright 2017, Eric Calderwood

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The Modern Day Knight

Outside, the team had re-assembled by the bleachers, and the new school colors were black and blue.

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“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 howled 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 chocolate 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

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The Gorilla Bandit

gorilla_019

Tom Jacobs dealt with his hatred for gorillas in the only constructive manner he knew. He stole them.

This hatred was birthed early in his life. When he was only eight years old, Tom was vacationing with his family at a big city zoo. While at the zoo, they went to see the gorillas.

Tom was eating a snow cone. It was cherry, Tom’s favorite. As he was eating his cone, Tom got too close to the gorilla cage. Tonka, the gorilla, was in a poor mood that morning, and not having a snow cone of his own, he hawked a goober on Tom’s.

Thick yellow-green phlegm oozed down Tom’s snow cone without Tom’s knowledge or consent. As Tom’s father and Tonka looked on, Tom took a great big juicy bite.

After that, whenever Tom and his family went out for a snow cone, his dad would ask, “Would you like some gorilla snot with that?”

Oh, how Tom hated gorillas.

The idea of stealing them, for fun and profit, first entered Tom’s head in high school. His science teacher was doing a unit on gorillas, the worst five days of Tom’s life. That week Tom’s teacher expressed the notion that if a gorilla were released from captivity it would lead a shorter and much less fulfilling life. Tom decided right then and there that once high school was over, he would lead a long and satisfying criminal career — releasing gorillas from captivity. He would teach those nasty apes not to put phlegm on little boys’ snow cones.

Three weeks after graduation Tom stole his first gorilla.

After paying off the security guard who let him into the zoo, Tom immediately took the gorilla into the nearby woods to release it. He laughed uncontrollably as the ape sat in front of him looking confused and forlorn. Tom rubbed his hands together in anticipation of future conquests. He looked into the gorilla’s eyes, intoxicated by a feeling of superiority. The gorilla returned Tom’s stare, and promptly sneezed on his face.

Tom stormed out of the woods in disgust.

He stole two more gorillas the next week. One he released on a beach, the other in a desert. Soon, he was stealing up to three gorillas each week. He hit upon the idea of selling them to new owners. He would then steal them back and release them. Gorilla carcasses were turning up everywhere, and Tom’s bank account was growing. All seemed to be going well for Tom until one day in June.

Tom was watching the evening news, waiting for the next dead gorilla report, when he learned that a special investigative unit made up of animal rights activists was being formed. Its sole intent was to capture, and/or humiliate, the “Gorilla Bandit.” The name of the new unit was the “Ape Force.”

From that point onward, life was pretty hard for Tom. He liked his new nickname, and even had a tee shirt printed up to wear on raids, but the Ape Force foiled every attempt he made to release more gorillas. They also very nearly caught him on more than one occasion.

His most recent occasion was a particularly close call. He was just about to lead a large male gorilla named Bertrand out the employee entrance of the zoo. Suddenly, they were surrounded by a small band of Ape Force activists. Tom shielded his face to keep from having his picture taken by an outstretched camera phone. Another activist took that opportunity to cover Tom’s chest with the dough of unbaked banana bread. The stupid Ape nearly chewed off Tom’s left nipple before he could get away.

“What I need,” Tom said the next day, rubbing his chest, “is a way to distract the Ape Force while I make off with the gorillas.” After much contemplation, Tom came up with his new plan.

Tom formed a political action committee and started getting gorillas elected to public office. They ran on a new ticket calling for equal rights for all species. Even the Ape Force dismantled in order to run “get out the vote” campaigns.

Soon slogans like “He’s an ape, but he’ll do!” and “Vote for me, my opponent’s only human!” were echoing across the land.

The day finally came when every last, living gorilla in America was elected into office. Tom was ecstatic. He expected the bewildered beasts would shrivel up and die due to the rigors of public office.

A year passed with no gorilla deaths. Tom began to worry. He was terribly disheartened to learn that the gorillas were actually thriving in their new positions. Worse yet, the apes’ constituents loved the jobs they were doing. The animal rights activists, encouraged by this turn of events, began campaigns to get donkeys elected to office.

That was when Tom Jacobs decided to drop out of society. He got a job at the local zoo, dressing up in a gorilla suit to fill a vacant position.

Last election day, after the newest jackass was elected to Congress, Tom was in a less than pleasant mood. A small boy passed in front of his cage holding a cherry snow cone. Just for fun, Tom hawked a goober on it.

Copyright 2007, Eric Calderwood
Revisions and additional material Copyright 2017, Eric Calderwood

Note: Neither of the animal species depicted in the above story are intended to represent any particular political party.

Visit the following links to find more by Eric Calderwood:

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Fighting Lessons

“I was hoping that it was just some sort of passing weakness that my little brother was showing and that it would wear off soon enough. But I was wrong.”

Cat Fight

Everybody knows Wayne Carroll is the toughest boy in the eighth grade. That’s me by the way, Wayne Carroll. So, when my little brother Deacon ran from a fight on his first day of junior high, I knew I had to do something.

I tried encouraging him, telling him that he’s not as little as he looks, but when Jake Fuller, one of the kids in Deacon’s grade, got mad at him, he ran away again.

I was hoping that it was just some sort of passing weakness that my little brother was showing and that it would wear off soon enough. But I was wrong.

One day, just as school got out, Deacon managed to tick off a new boy named Roy Werner. Roy was about to pound him, but right then Mr. Werner pulled up in his old black Caddy to take Roy home.

“Tomorrow,” Roy said under his breath. “After school!” Then he jumped into his dad’s Caddy and smiled as it roared away.

I watched Roy and his dad drive off and made up my mind. I was Deacon’s big brother, and it was my responsibility to teach him to fight.

Not that there was all that much of Deacon to work with. Not only was he short, but he was so skinny he could hide behind a telephone pole. But I hoped that knowing the right techniques would make up for his size.

I knew if I was going to teach Deacon right, we’d have to go someplace where no one could laugh at him. I turned off the road from school and headed into the woods.

“Where’re we going, Wayne?”

I didn’t answer. I just kept walking.

Deacon, always the curious type, followed me every step of the way. Finally, I stopped at a small clearing.

The first thing I had to do was teach Deacon to stand his ground.

“You stand right there and don’t move,” I told him.

He stood there.

“Now, pretend I’m Roy Werner about to fight you,” I said. “What do you do?”

“Run!” said Deacon.

“Oh, no, you don’t!” I said, grabbing him by the shirt collar. “You stand right there and look him in the eye.”

Deacon just stared at me like he thought I was crazy.

“OK,” I said, moving on, “what you need now is the proper fighting stance. Put out your right foot and hold up your right hand.”

Deacon just stood there some more.

“Move it!” I yelled.

I guess I startled him, because he jumped, and when he put his foot out he soundly stomped mine in the process.

“How’s that?” he asked, as he looked up at me.

I tried not to moan as I pulled my foot out from under his. I decided to get this first lesson over with in a hurry.

“Good!” I told him. “You’re doing it right.”

Deacon wrinkled his brow. “What am I doing?”

“You’re standing your ground,” I said. “You’re not budging an inch, and you’re staring me down. That’s how you do it!”

“I’m so short, how am I going to stare down at anybody?”

“Aw, it’s just a figure of speech, Deacon,” I said. “Now come on, let’s get to the next lesson. You’ve got to learn to block punches.”

“Block them!” he shouted. “Why block them if I can avoid them altogether?”

I sighed deeply. “You can’t avoid them if you’re going to stand your ground. Now come on.”

I stood him up with his back to a thorn bush.

“Deacon,” I said, trying to put some menace in my voice, “If you try to get away from me instead of blocking these punches, I’ll shove you right through that thorn bush!”

I had his full attention, so I began. I went slowly at first, “fake-punching” him and showing him how to block the punches. When I thought he had the idea, I started punching a little faster and aimed at his head.

He did really well, blocking a few punches, so I started punching even faster. Just when I thought Deacon was actually going to learn something, he ducked.

I had been leaning toward him, expecting his arm to stop the force of my blow. When my arm encountered nothing, I went flying forward. I tripped over Deacon and landed soundly in the middle of that thorn bush.

The bush cut me all over. I was a bleeding mess. I almost gave up on Deacon’s lessons, but the thought of everybody at school seeing Wayne Carroll’s little brother run away from another fight set my mind back to its task.

“All right then!” I shouted at him, wincing and clawing my way out of the thorn bush. “It’s time you learned how to punch!”

He just stared at me again. With new determination, I took his hand and started bending his fingers into a fist. Then I paused and tried a little reverse psychology.

“Hey, Deacon?” I asked.

“Yeah?”

“If I teach you how to fight good, you’re not going to go around picking on people, are you?”

His eyes brightened, and he looked at me like I was just about to reveal the secret that would make him the second toughest boy in Laurel County.

“No,” he said excitedly. “No, Wayne, I won’t pick on people, I promise. I’ll only use it to defend myself.”

“Good,” I said, satisfied that my plan had worked. “Because I wouldn’t want to be responsible for turning you into a troublemaker.” I squeezed his fist into a tight ball. “Be sure to keep your wrists straight. Now, punch me in the stomach.”

I braced myself for the blow, and while I was waiting I thought I felt a light breeze blow my shirt around. Then I realized it was my brother’s punch!

“OK,” I said, even though it was definitely not OK! I paused for a moment trying to figure out the best way to encourage him. “Alright, now, step into your punch and this time put a little more force behind it.”

Deacon tried again. Only, this time, he tripped over his own feet. I bent over to catch him as he fell and his arm flew straight up in the air. His fist caught me right in the eye. The force of the blow flung me backward and the side of my head smashed into the limb of a nearby tree.

I lay with my back on the ground and stared up at him. I could feel my eye swelling shut and a large knot forming on the side of my head. This, combined with all the scratches and blood from my altercation with the thorn bush and my still-throbbing left foot, made me feel like I had been trounced by a dozen boys. I had no doubt that it made me look that way as well.

“I think you’ve got the idea,” I managed to mumble. “Let’s go home now.”

I picked myself up and started limping toward home. Deacon followed.

On the way, we met a group of boys who were friends with Roy Werner.

“What happened to you, Wayne?” one of them asked me with wonder in his voice.

“Deacon beat me up,” I grumbled. I ignored their stares and open mouths and limped on home.

Well, Deacon never did have to fight Roy, or anyone else either. He’s got a reputation bigger than his brother, and no one wants to mess with that.

As for me, I decided never to give fighting lessons again. It’s just too risky. Besides, I’ve got more important things to figure out, like why Betty Lassiter winked at me during lunch yesterday.

Copyright 2017, Eric Calderwood

Visit the following links to find more by Eric Calderwood:

The Buzzard Tamer by Eric Calderwood on Amazon.com

Articles by Eric Calderwood on HubPages

Eric Calderwood on Twitter