FORMATTING’S BEEN PROBLEMATIC HERE. I THINK I HAVE IT FIXED, SO THAT THIS IS NOW EASIER TO READ —
Thank you, one and all! Frankly, I’m shocked and delighted to hear from so many readers asking for a year-end installment of THE MANTOOTH BONE. So here you have it, with my apology for the oversight and my gratitude for your interest…
This part of the story takes place in the first third of the novel’s manuscript, at Eddie Starling’s first summer camp. Eddie and his best friend Todd are in the Black Knights—one of Troop 22’s four patrols. Eddie made Tenderfoot (the hard way, but that’s another part of the story) a few weeks earlier; Boomer was elected Patrol Leader; Jack Wildhorn, Senior Patrol Leader. Bill Wildhorn, Jack’s father, agreed to be their camp Scoutmaster. This segment of the story opens toward the end of the troop’s week at Camp Tomahawk…
Todd and I buddied up. I’m going to earn Swimming merit badge for sure, and I have everything done for Second Class rank. Todd—he’s already Second Class—is finishing Rifle Shooting merit badge, and so am I. Just one more round of targets to go. I wanted to go for Nature merit badge but Todd was really into Indian Lore, so that’s the other one we’re trying for.
I made a sheath for my pocketknife and did beadwork for the front of it. Todd and I are practicing Native American sign language and we’re getting pretty good. We can actually sign-talk to each other a little bit. We need to build a model of a wigwam, tepee, or long-house. We decide on a tepee. I show Todd how to make it with twigs and sticks and a few brown paper bags the kitchen crew at the dining hall gave us, plus some Tempera paint from the craft lodge.
Todd and I are at the craft lodge finishing up our tepees when we check our watches. Time to head back to Cheveyo for lunch. We take our tepees with us, to show our counselor later. It’s close to time for the troop to assemble in our campsite, so we take a shortcut through the woods to get back faster.
“Hey, you two kids! Wadda ya doin’ in our campsite?!”
We freeze. Oh crap, we walked right into that annoying troop’s area, right next to our own.
“Hey, sorry. No prob! We’re outa here,” I shout over to the four Scouts standing by their fire ring. We start heading back the way we came, but not fast enough. The four of them surround us.
“So, what’ve you kids got there?” one of them says. His lips sorta curl. He’s got a mean look in his eyes.
“They’re model tepees,” Todd says. “We made ‘em for Indian Lore merit badge.”
“Tepees? They look more like dunce caps. Wadda ya think, guys? Dunce caps, right?” The other three start wagging their heads up and down. They’re all grinning down at us—they’re way bigger than Todd and me.
“Dunce caps for two little dunces,” another says. “Why don’tcha put ‘em on, little dunce camper-kids?”
I can feel my face getting red. “They’re tepees, and we’re not dunces or little kids! We’re Scouts!”
“Yeah, right,” the third one says, with a toothy grin. “Little Scouty-Scouts. Little baby campers.” He points to Todd. “You. You look like a little crybaby. Gonna cry fer us, little dunce crybaby?” They grab our tepees and jam them on our heads.
Todd starts to look like he’s gonna lose it. But I’m wrong. “You fatass dirtball!” Todd yells. He knocks the mangled tepee off his head and swings an uppercut right at the biggest guy’s jaw. But the guy’s too tall or Todd’s too short; the punch catches the guy on his neck, right on his Adam’s apple. With a sloppy sort of gurgling sound the guy folds to his knees as he grabs his throat, then pitches forward, face down in the dirt.
“What are you doing!” the others yell. They grab Todd. I knock the other broken tepee off my head and before they can grab me I race across the campsite to get to our own, about a hundred feet away through the woods. One of the other three lets go of Todd and runs after me. He’s fast, and grabs the back of my tee-shirt before I can get to the woods. “Gotcha!” he hollers. I feel myself stopping but before I lose my balance backwards I throw myself into a forward roll. Instead of letting go, the guy holds onto my shirt, but my roll makes him lose his balance. I feel my tee-shirt start to come off over my head as the guy goes sailing over me, somersaults, and lands face-up in front of me. I free myself from the tee-shirt, then run for our campsite, slapping branches out of my way.
Most of our troop’s gathered, getting ready to head off to the dining hall when I bust through the woods. “They’ve got Todd!” I yell, and without even asking what’s going on the whole troop takes off through the woods to the other campsite.
The bozo Todd whacked is still face-down. The other with my tee-shirt got up and now the three of them are holding Todd off the ground and working to cram the broken tepee back on his head. Todd’s hollering and kicking at them, then he stops and sort of relaxes. He grins. “Okay, you three, take a look behind you,” he says.
They’re puzzled for a second, then turn around. Behind them are twenty really pissed off Scouts.
Jack’s the first to speak. “Let our Scout go. Now.”
“Oh yeah? Like, what’re you gonna do? We got him, and that’s that,” one of the guys says, but not with the same face as when the odds were four-to-two. He takes a couple of steps closer to Jack. “You think you’re so tough,” he says to Jack, poking him in the chest, “you just try, smart guy.”
I can see Jack’s face. I can see in his eyes he’s making a decision. The guy poking him sees it too, and drops his hand.
“I’m not going to do anything to you or your friends here,” Jack says quietly, “although you’re really tempting me. I’m just going to walk over to the dining hall and have lunch. But what these other Scouts have in mind—well, you don’t look it, but maybe you’re actually bright enough to figure that one out, all by yourselves.”
That’s when the Sharks do their chant, the Bobcats start howling, the Gators growl, and the Knights thump our stampede sound all together.
The three bozos look at each other like they’re making a decision too. They let go of Todd. The face-down guy gurgles a couple of times, then slowly gets on his feet.
“I think a couple of items on the ground belong to these two Scouts. Maybe you should give ‘em over. Now,” Jack says. They don’t question Jack this time. They pick up the sorry-looking scraps and try to straighten them. Then they give them to Todd and me.
“We were just…” one of them starts.
“Stow it,” Jack cuts him short. “I don’t want to hear an excuse, and an apology would be really stupid, coming from you four. So here’s how it’s going to happen. You stay away from us. You touch one of our Scouts again, I guarantee you’ll be on the phone begging your parents to come get you. Got that? I said, got that?” And that once is the loudest I ever heard Jack speak.
Later, as we’re leaving the Indian Lore lodge, Todd nudges me. “Do you think Jack could have done it back there? I mean, do you think he could have taken down all those guys?”
“I saw him think about it, Todd. I think he could have, and I think that’s exactly why he decided not to. Those jerks figured it out too. My dad’s always said, ‘If you know you can do something, sometimes it’s better to not do it and let the other guy figure it out, if he has any brains at all’.”
“So what are we gonna do about those dirtballs in that troop next door?” Todd’s asking me.
“Wadda you mean, ‘do’?”
“I can’t believe it, Eddie. You mean you’re just gonna let it go? Like nothing happened? After they ruined our tepees and we had to start all over again?”
“Well, I gotta tell you, Todd. Two up against four is lousy odds to begin with, but if you go by weight, it’s like two to eight, and that really sucks.”
“So who says it has to be just us?”
“Eddie, we have four guys in our patrol who’ll back us up. I’m positive.”
“Yeah, I get you. But what? I mean, we don’t want to hurt them or damage anything. Even though they really have it coming, that’s just not right.”
“So something else, then. Some way they can feel the Ninja sting of pain, but with nobody really getting hurt. Got any ideas?”
“I’ll think about it, Todd. But not a word till we figure something out, okay?”
That night, after Taps and lights out, Todd and I slide out of our sleeping bags still wearing our shorts and tee shirts, slip on our sneakers, and use the moonlight to take us to the dumpster area behind the dining hall and the kitchen’s back. We find what we came for. Completing our plan, we’re back to our tent in half an hour. I don’t think anyone heard or saw us.
It’s Friday night already, and we’ll be heading back home on Sunday morning after services. Taps blows its sad tune and echoes over the still lake and across the valley. There’s no breeze tonight and the woods are still. The only sound’s from the tree frogs’ chirping. The light of the gibbous moon flickers through the treetops making splotches of light on the soft ground. All lights are out.
The six of us slip from the tent with shorts, tee-shirts, and sneakers, but no socks. Our own flashlights are tucked in one side pocket, and we have the six others we borrowed from the Sharks in the other, so we have two flashlights each.
When we get to them, the cartons lay undisturbed beneath the branches Todd and I blanketed them with the other night, off the trail between us and the noisy troop. Quiet as ghosts, we remove the branches and carry the cartons and their contents through the woods and down the short trail. Creeping behind the tents till we reach our target, we stop and listen. The other troop’s tent flaps are all down—sides, back, and front. We arrange the cartons’ contents close to each other on the ground in front of the tent. Then we slip the empty cartons under their raised wood tent platform.
We back up about a dozen steps from the tent. We’ve each chosen a couple of small rocks, about the size of golf balls. On my whispered “go,” we start throwing the rocks at the closed front tent flap. They hit the canvas making sharp whack sounds. It doesn’t take long.
“Hey! What’s that?” from inside the tent.
“Who’s out there?”
“What’s that noise?”
The two front flaps flip back. That’s when we stop tossing the rocks and snap on all twelve flashlights. We aim their beams right in the eyes of the four jerks in the tent. We keep moving the lights around so that we look like twelve instead of just six. But we don’t speak a word—we’re totally silent.
“Hey! Cut that out!”
“Turn off those lights!”
We keep aiming the flashlight beams at their faces.
“We’ll get you!”
“We’ll get you for this!”
Just as we hoped, the four come charging out of the tent without first grabbing their own flashlights…or shoes.
Crack! Crack! Crack! Squish. Crack! Squish. Squish. “What the..!”
The eggs they’d jumped down on are cracking and squishing under their feet, sending them slipping, sliding, falling.
Other tents start rousing. We snap off our flashlights and run for the woods in six different directions, staying off trails, using routes we’d figured out earlier that day.
Quickly back in our own tent and in our sleeping bags, sneakers under our cots, we listen. The other campsite’s in an uproar, with lights and cursing everywhere. Then new sounds over at the latrine and wash stands, as they try to get the egg goo and shells off their feet, arms, legs, hands, and clothes, cursing like crazy all the way.
Finally, the muttering settles down, and I can picture in my mind four miserable dirtballs wandering barefoot back to their tent, careful to avoid the raw omelet that’s waiting for them on the ground in front of it. I find myself smiling a very satisfied smile as I drift off to sleep.
When morning comes and Reveille blares, Jack lines up the troop, like he does every morning before the walk to the dining hall.
“Seems there was a little ruckus last night,” he begins, sort of smiling slightly at just one corner of his mouth. “My dad and I have been up for a while because the Scoutmaster over there wanted to have a little chat. He wants to know which of our Scouts might have been missing for a while. We told him that we didn’t hear a thing till his own Scouts started all that yelling and stuff, and that when we did a tent-check all Scouts were where they were supposed to be. Did we get that right, or does anyone want to say something?”
“Nope. You got that right, Jack,” Matt, from the Sharks, says.
“Yup, we’re all here,” says David. “Every Gator slept through the night. Right, guys?” and they all nod, but with big grins.
“The Bobcats slept like babies, too!” Jason adds.
“That leaves the Black Knights,” Jack says. “Anything you want to add, Boomer?”
“Black Knights all present!” Boomer’s large voice calls out.
“Well that’s that,” Jack says. “I guess there’s nothing else to say. So let’s head on down to the dining hall. Boomer, see me for a minute, please.”
Uh oh, I’m thinking. If Boomer crumbles, we’re all done for!
“What did Jack ask you?” Corey whispers to Boomer in the dining hall as he passes the huge plate of hot pancakes.
“Oh, nuthin’,” Boomer says. “He just wanted to know, like, did we get enough sleep last night. He thought we looked a little frazzled.”
“So what did you say?” Justin asks.
“Oh, I just told him we slept like babies, too,” Boomer says. “No biggie. Jack’s cool.”
“Do you think he knows?” Todd asks.
“’Course he knows. He’s no dope.”
“So, like, is he gonna do anything? Like tell the other troop, or anything?”
“Not a chance, Todd. Jack knows they got what they deserved. And he knows nobody got hurt or anything. So it’s over. Except look over there…”
Three tables away, the four dirtball Scouts look like big messy globs. Shirts still wet from getting the eggs off, and two with their hair still caked from trying to get the eggs they’d fallen into out. They keep eyeballing us, but we don’t look back, or wave, or laugh, or anything. We just finish our breakfast, clean up, and leave the dining hall with our other patrols.
As we’re heading back on the trail to Cheveyo campsite for our last morning before the big farewell campfire, Bill waves for me to catch up with him.
“Nicely done, Eddie. Those so-called Scouts got what was coming and nobody really got hurt. Oh, their pride, maybe, and that’s probably not such a bad thing. They have a lot to learn about how to treat others,” Bill says.
“Eddie, you’re one of the sharpest Scouts I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Are you really going to try to convince me otherwise?”
“No…I guess not, Bill. But why me? There’s twenty-one other guys in the troop, and none of ‘em’s actually stupid.”
“Eddie, you’re sharper than most, you’re not out to hurt anybody, and you’re careful. But if you want me to think it was someone else who out-smarted those guys in that other troop…well, okay, we’ll let it go at that.”
Darn it! He’s as bad as my dad! How do they figure this stuff out?
(PS, So nobody’s hair catches fire here, later in the story we learn that, before leaving for home, the Black Knights pooled their remaining “trading post” money, put it in an envelope, and placed it by the camp kitchen’s back door–to pay for the eggs Eddie and Todd “borrowed.”)
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[No. 468 – 12/31/2015 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2015]