NT FRANKLIN - SHORT-STORIES
NT Franklin - I write after my real job hoping one day to have it be my real job. When I’m not reading or writing short stories, you might find me fishing or solving crossword puzzles.
Me and Bart Go to Camp
I saw Bart sprinting across the road. This had to be something good.
“My uncle’s coming!” Bart said trying to catch his breath.
“The one with the fancy sports car?” I asked.
“No, the other one. Black Sheep Bobby my mom calls him. She says all he wears is blue jeans and flannel shirts. He’s a rancher.”
“The one that goes into the woods and eats off the land like Daniel Boone?”
“Yes, Uncle Bobby is coming to take me to camp for the weekend.”
“Like Camp Neyati?” I asked. One summer, me and Bart went there for a week. I didn’t remember it being that exciting.
“Camp Neyati is a camp. Uncle Bobby says this is a ‘Man’s Camp.’ No girls. Like a log cabin in the woods or something. We’ll fish and stuff.” Bart was excited.
“Well, it sounds okay,” I said. It sounded better than okay but I didn’t have any uncles and my mom didn’t do outdoor stuff like that. Bart was lucky.
“You dummy. You can come too.”
“What? Really? I’ll have to ask my mom.”
“My mom already talked with her. She said I could be the one to tell you. Besides Uncle Bobby has everything we need and he drives a big pickup truck. He can haul stuff in the back, he can tow a boat and even put a canoe on top of it. It is big and green. It is four-wheel drive, but I’m not sure what that does.”
“When? What do I need to bring?”
“Friday afternoon. Just bring clothes and stuff. There’s a lake so we can go swimming,” Bart said.
“Why is it a “Man’s Camp? We’re boys. Is it okay?”
“I dunno. If Uncle Bobby says so, I guess it is okay. Maybe it’s because there are no girls.”
My mom was happy I was going to do ‘man stuff’ with Bart’s Uncle Bobby.
Friday finally came. We were waiting on Bart’s front porch when a pickup truck with a canoe pulled into the driveway.
“Bart! You’re growing every year,” cried Uncle Bobby as he hopped out. “I need to say ‘Howdy’ to your mom and then we’ll get going. We don’t want to be late.” He nodded at me as he went inside.
A few minutes later Uncle Bobby came out, smiled, and said “Pete and Repeat, you guys ready to go?”
We loaded our bags into the back of the truck and hopped in the front. Riding in a truck was so cool. I’d never done it before but decided then and there I might have to get one when I grow up.
The truck went bump when we pulled off the road onto a dirt path and we both were startled awake.
“I guess we fell asleep,” Bart said.
“Yup,” Uncle Bobby said. “We’re almost there.
The Man’s Camp was a log cabin on a lake. There were two bedrooms and a living room with a kitchen on one end. It had a fireplace and a porch with wood piled on it. Me and Bart figured it was near to heaven.
“See a bathroom in the camp?” Uncle Bobby asked. He didn’t wait for an answer. “There isn’t one. This is a Man’s Camp. There’s an outhouse around back. Use it or the woods. Whatever you want.” We looked at each other in disbelief. We get to pee outside without getting in trouble.
“You boys feel like hot dogs over the campfire for supper?”
Boy did we. Best hot dogs ever. Right over the fire on a stick. Uncle Bobby whittled the end of the stick with a knife to a point.
When a hot dog dropped off my stick into the fire, I sneaked a glance at Uncle Bobby, hoping he wouldn’t be mad.
“Looks like you need a new dog, Uncle Bobby said, handing me one. He didn’t get mad about wasting food or about anything.
Eat all the ‘dogs you want, ‘cause that’s all there is for supper. Well, that and bottles of Coke.”
Like we wanted anything else. Bobby ate five. I think I ate four. And two Cokes each. This was living. Me and Bart were sure we could live there forever.
We sat around the campfire talking about baseball until the sky was full of stars. It was really dark when we walked the short distance from the fire to the camp.
“Time to turn in, boys. Big day tomorrow. I put flashlights on your bunks.”
“Anything dangerous in the woods?” I asked Uncle Bobby.
“Nothing more dangerous than us,” he replied. “Except maybe bears.”
“You two, don’t look so worried,” Uncle Bobby said. “I was on a bear hunt here 15 years ago. Came up empty. There hasn’t been a bear seen in these woods for over ten years.
I was relieved we made it inside in one piece. I’m glad there were flashlights because it was some kinda dark when the lantern went out. I think me and Bart were asleep in two minutes.
SCREECH! YOWL! SCREECH!
“Bart, BART! Wake up. Did you hear that? I think bears are coming.”
“Listen to that. Bears are coming,” I said.
“All I hear is Uncle Bobby snoring.”
“There it is again. You hear it this time?”
“Yeah, creepy. You think they are bears?” Bart asked.
A light started moving around and Uncle Bobby appeared in the doorway.
“You boys hear the ‘coons fighting outside? I hope they didn’t scare you.”
“Naw. We figured they were just ‘coons. Night,” Bart said.
Phew, now all was well and we were still tired.
I woke to a bit of smoke in the bedroom and the lovely smell of fried meat. Bacon. We never had bacon at home—too expensive. Bart sat up in bed and smiled at me.
We went into the main room of the camp to the sound of sizzling eggs on the stove. Uncle Bobby was at the stove flipping eggs with one hand and moving bacon around with the other. Like a magician.
Uncle Bobby grabbed the toast as it popped, buttered it, and loaded up plates. “Morning, boys. It was quiet after the coons settled down. You two sleep okay?” He asked as he set the plates down.
“Oh yeah," Bart said. "Slept great and worked up an appetite.”
The eggs weren’t chocolate milk on Wheaties, but not bad. We ate all the bacon that was cooked. Can’t let that got to waste.
“Gear up. Fishing calls.” Uncle Bobby said as he cleaned up the dishes. “Perch are everywhere and sunfish can get big near the shore by trees. You two take the canoe and wear your lifejackets.”
Me and Bart got to take the canoe out all by ourselves. We paddled around and fished pretty much in the middle of the lake. We caught five perch that morning. The biggest two were mine. Felt pretty good to catch a fish on a hook you baited.
“Wow!" Uncle Bobby said when we returned. "Look at those whoppers. Shore lunch it is.”
Uncle Bobby had a tiny fire going and cooked the fish over the fire. Fresh-caught fish with cheese and crackers washed down with Cokes. Never had a better lunch.
After lunch, we went back out on the lake. I was getting the hang of canoeing. The fishing was good along the shore where some trees were partway in the water.
“I need room up here,” Bart said. “Hold my paddle and bring the canoe forward toward the snag. I don’t want to lose the lure.” I took his paddle and then moved the canoe closer to the snag.
“Hold it steady.,” Bart reached over the side to free the lure from the fallen tree.”
The canoe started rocking and I grabbed the sides. Bart kept tugging. The rocking back and forth wasn’t doing my stomach any good at all.
“Got it! Saved the lure. Hand my paddle back now.”
I was trying to keep lunch down and didn’t respond. Bart turned around and looked over my shoulder.
“Where are the paddles?”
I was holding tight to the canoe and looking at my feet. “Ahh, I was holding onto both of them and you started rocking the canoe.” By then I'd recovered enough to twist around and see both paddles drifting toward camp.
“Hop out of the canoe," Bart said, "it’s a beautiful day for a swim.,”
And he was right. It was a beautiful day for a swim. Uncle Bobby had set up a chair to watch us cross the lake pushing a canoe while swimming. He just sat there smiling and shaking his head. We made it back to camp in time for supper.
“With the lunch fire out, we could cook this fish over a campfire. Whadda say? Let’s make the fire closer to the lake, just in case.”
I didn’t know in case of what, but he started the fire closer to the lake than the night before.
Uncle Bobby cooked the fish over the campfire. Boy, it went down fast. I guess all the swimming with the canoe made us hungry. Me and Bart were sure Uncle Bobby could cook anything over a fire and make it delicious. Now, I know me and Bart could live here forever. As long as Uncle Bobby was here, I guess. He never seems to run out of Cokes.
The campfire was burning nicely. “You know,” Bart said, "there’s lots of wood around here, we could gather some for the next fire.” So off we went. Uncle Bobby smiled as we made quite a big pile.
We sat down to admire our work when Uncle Bobby said, “shame to see all that wood go to waste on this nice summer night.”
Bart jumped up and threw some wood onto the fire. Then some more. All the while Uncle Bobby was smiling.
“We might have enough on the fire now,” I said.
“Nah,” said Bart. “There lots more wood to put on. Nothing better than a big fire.” Bart kept piling the wood on the fire.
I saw Uncle Bobby coming around the corner of the camp carrying a big bucket. He went down to the lake and filled it up and poured it out on the ground between the fire and the camp and along the sides of the slope by the fire. He kept pouring bucket after bucket.
I had to back away because the fire was getting too hot. We no longer had a campfire but a bonfire. Bart kept throwing on wood and Uncle Bobby kept pouring water.
The wind shifted and Bart looked like he saw a ghost. The ground was on fire most of the way to the lake. The water Uncle Bobby poured kept the fire from spreading to the camp or to the sides of the path to the lake. The ground was black and scorched between the fire and the lake. Good thing the fire had been moved closer to the lake.
“Looks like that’s about enough wood on the fire, Bart,” Uncle Bobby said. “Building too big of a fire is a rite of passage for all boys. Now you see what can happen. I guess we’re out here for a while; we need to make sure the fire doesn’t spread. Maybe this is something you won’t tell your moms about.”
Me and Bart agreed. The fire settled back down and so did we. It was a beautiful night by the fire and the stars were bright. It was a good day but it was time to hit the sack.
Breakfast was eggs again. I’m starting to like eggs the way Uncle Bobby cooks them. Runny yellow and hard whites. All I ever had was scrambled. Uncle Bobby had bacon done already and added pancakes to breakfast.
“Last morning here, boys. Better hit the lake and catch some fish for lunch.”
We didn’t need to be reminded this was our last day or to go fishing.
Life jackets on, we dragged the canoe to the water and shoved off. It was going to be a big lunch as we started catching sunfish right off. Big ones too. Bart liked to leave them in the bottom of the canoe but mine were on a stringer hanging over the side. We were both watching the flopping when we heard “BOOM.”
“You hear that?” Bart asked when I looked at him.
“What was it?”
“I dunno. Sonic boom or something,” Bart said.
“There it is again,” I said.
Then we heard about five booms in a row coming from near a camp on the other side of the lake.
“We should paddle over and check it out,” Bart said.
“Gee, I dunno.”
“Come on, let’s go. It’ll be fun.”
“I don’t think so.”
Didn’t matter because we were heading that way because Bart was paddling like mad to it. Men in one of the three boats looks up and sees us heading towards them. They crank the outboard motor and head right at us.
“If they swamp us, we can swim back, we did yesterday,” Bart said.
“Yeah, but paddling back would be okay too. We could head back to our camp,” I answered.
The boat was almost on top of us when it stopped. Now I was worried.
“You boys, want some fish? We got lots,” the man in the boat asked.
“Thanks for the offer, but we won’t be able to eat all we have right now,” Bart said.
“Suit yourself,” the man said. He revved up the motor and sped away.
“He was acting funny,” I told Bart.
“I think he was drunk,” Bart said.
“Yeah, maybe. Hey, Uncle Bobby is on the shore waving to us. Looks like he wants us to come in. Maybe he’s hungry for lunch.”
“Okay, I guess we better go in,” Bart said.
When we got back to camp, Uncle Bobby said we should relax and have an early lunch.
“I told you he was hungry,” I said to Bart.
“Just sit still and everything will be okay,” Uncle Bobby said. “I think we are going to have company.”
“Yes, we met some men in a boat,” Bart said.
“No, not them. But I think it might be about them,” Uncle Bobby answered. I saw a Warden’s truck driving by about ten minutes ago. Wardens are the good guys in the woods.”
“Like us?” I asked.
“Yes. But they have to deal with bad people sometimes.”
A man in a green uniform got out of a truck and started walking down to our cooking fire.
“Good day, Warden. What can we do for you?” Uncle Bobby asked the man in uniform.
“Just stopping by to ask about the fishing.”
“The boys have done really well as you can see. We’re about to start a shore lunch.” Uncle Bobby said. “Gonna cook these sunfish over the open flame. Skin on. Keeps the meat moist and sweet. Care to join us?” Uncle Bobby asked.
“Another time, I’d like that. I have to go to work. Been reports of explosions on the water to gather fish.”
“We heard something, but these boys have been using Daredevils. They came in about a half hour ago. You might want to ask at the camp on the other end of the lake.”
“Thanks for your help,” the warden said as he left.
Me and Bart looked at each other, neither of us wanting to get out of our chair.
“It’s not legal to throw dynamite or big fire crackers onto the water–the fish get shocked and float to the surface,” Uncle Bobby said.
“Why don’t they fish like they’re supposed to?” I asked.
“Some people go through life cheating.”
The fish we caught legal were good again and so was the Coke.
After Uncle Bobby loaded the canoe on the truck, we spent the afternoon exploring the woods around camp.
We were worried about supper with no fish, but Uncle Bobby had cans of something called Spam. He said it was a Hawaiian delicacy. The slices were perfectly shaped and boy, was it good.
After an early supper, me and Bart went into the woods to pee outside one last time. We giggled until we saw a skunk come around the outhouse.
“Don’t move,” Bart whispered. “Maybe he won’t see us.”
I was frozen in place. “If I get sprayed by a skunk, my mom will kill me,” I told Bart.
The skunk ignored us as it waddled around and then headed off into the woods.
“On the count of three,” Bart whispered. “One, two, threeeee.”
We came flying around the corner of the camp to see Uncle Bobby smiling. Before we could speak, he said, “Met the camp skunk, did ya boys?”
“You knew there was a skunk here?!” Bart asked.
“Sure, he lives here. We’re guests. Remember that.”
“Boys, before we leave, go change your underwear. I know you didn’t. This way your moms will be fooled. If you don’t, they may never let me take you here again. After that skunk, I’m sure you need to change them anyway.”
“And maybe this afternoon is another thing you won’t tell your moms about,” Uncle Bobby added.
Me and Bart carried our stuff out to the truck and said goodbye to the camp.
“Your Uncle Bobby is real smart,” I told Bart. “He knows how to do lots of things and get away with stuff.”
“Yeah, he’s really cool.” My mom says he never grew up. My dad said he changed after being in Viet Nam.”
Me and Bart climbed into the truck and Uncle Bobby drove off. We must have dozed off again because we were already back at Bart’s house. I said ‘thanks for the wonderful weekend’ and ‘bye’ to Uncle Bobby and Bart and went across the road where my mom was waiting in the driveway.
I told her it was the best weekend ever. And there is always tomorrow.
Me and Bart and the Swimming Hole
School was out for summer. Finally. And it was hot. Good, hot, sweaty weather. Perfect swimming weather. I had permission from my mom to go swimming. Bart never had to ask, but I had to. I didn’t ask permission in front of Bart. It could get embarrassing for me when I did. But I had permission to go to the swimming hole.
I pushed my bike across the road to Bart’s house. “We haven’t gone swimming yet. We should go,” I told Bart.
“Sounds like a plan,” Bart said.
Sandwiches in pockets and towels around our necks, we mounted our bikes and headed to the river. We called the easy access area of the river the swimming hole. We liked it because not very many people swam there what with the new town pool. The water was clear, but kinda brown. Mom said it was from the tree roots. Seemed fine to me and Bart.
We ditched our bikes on top of the hill overlooking the river and ate our sandwiches while leaning against a tree. What a life!
“That was dumb,” I said. “Now we have to wait a half hour to go swimming after eating.”
“Not me,” Bart said. “That rule is for girls.”
I protested a little, but I wanted to go swimming, and besides, who would know? It was just us two there anyway.
Bart loved the rope swing that launched him into the river. The rope was at least three inches in diameter with a big knot at the end. It’d been there longer than I could remember. It was Bart’s favorite part of the swimming hole. Mine too. When I was swinging on it, I thought I was 100 feet over the water. Bart said it was only 15 feet.
I never swung out as far as Bart did, but I still used the swing. It was a good day. After an hour of swimming, we climbed out and up to where our bikes and clothes were. The view was great from high on the hill overlooking the river.
We sat there watching the slow moving river, when suddenly we looked at each other at the same time. Voices. Someone was coming.
“Let’s spy on them,” Bart whispered.
“What if they are girls?”
And who appears at the swimming hole but Fred Wick and Billy Ferber. The two biggest bullies in junior high. They were bullies way back in grade school. Kicked me off tetherball anytime I was playing. In junior high, they were bigger than anyone else because they stayed back a year. Bart stood up for me once in the school bathroom and paid for it with a knee to the thigh. He was sore for a day and had a bruise for a week. I got a massive wedgie. Not my first. It bothered Bart more than me when they picked on me.
They left their bikes a little back from the river and nearly below us. Both Fred’s and Billy’s tee shirts had the sleeves cut off. Billy’s belt looked like a chain.
“My mom won’t let me cut off the sleeves of my shirt,” I said. “She said nice boys don’t do that.”
The bullies left their clothes by their bikes and headed down to the river.
“We gotta do something,” Bart whispered.
“I don’t know…” I said. “Look! They’re skinny dipping.”
“Shush. They’ll hear us. I have an idea. We’ll just wait a bit right here.”
After a bit, Bart said, “Let’s go.”
We dressed and pushed our bikes down the path.
Bart quietly gathered up all their clothes, all the while grinning.
“But they need their clothes,” I said.
“I know. That’s why we’re going to take them. We’ll leave the towels so they will have to wear them like dresses.”
We could hear their voices from the river as we pushed our bikes to get going. And off we went with their shoes, shirts, pants and socks in our bike baskets.
We laughed our fool heads off once we were out hearing range. Pretty good payback for wedgies. This was the best day ever.
“Now what do we do with their clothes?” I asked. “I don’t want to get in trouble.”
“Don’t worry, you won’t.”
Bart was always so sure. Almost always right, too.
“There’s a Salvation Army donation box in the grocery store parking lot. We’ll dump them in there. It’ll be perfect. You’ll see.”
It was a short ride to the donation box. I don’t remember ever bicycling faster. Bart dumped the clothes in the box while I watched. He was right; it was perfect.
“We’re not done,” Bart said. “Follow me.”
And we started to retrace our route.
“We can’t go back, they’ll pound us.”
“Not all the way back, but we have to see them coming out of the access road. It’s the only way in or out. It’ll be cool, you’ll see.”
As we pedaled, who did we see but Annie Howard and Ellen Morrison walking on the sidewalk. They were the two most popular girls in school. Blonde straight hair, blue eyes, dimples. They looked like twins. They were also the two prettiest girls in school. I was terrified of them. I thought I was going to die when Bart stopped his bike in front of them. This wasn’t good.
Bart was fearless talking to them. As usual, I didn’t say much, just straddled my bike trying not to look dumb. Suddenly, movement caught my eye. It was the bullies riding bikes wearing only towels around their waists. This was going to be bad.
The two got closer and closer, looking madder and madder. They were fifteen feet from us and slowing down. I was sure I was going to die.
They must have been distracted by the girls because Fred didn’t notice the corner of his towel hanging down and getting caught in his bike chain. He went down in a heap. Billy crashed into him and fell on top of Fred and his bike. They snarled and cursed at each other while the four of us stared; the whole situation was rather funny.
Then Billy stood up. His towel was caught was in the bike and stayed caught. Billy was so intent on yelling “IDIOT” at Fred over and over, he wasn’t the first one to notice his towel was covering his bike. He had tan lines visible right to the point where his cutoffs usually were. Both girls giggled at his naked butt.
Fred tried to get up, but his towel was stuck in his chain, too. Tan lines proudly showing. Now there were two naked butts, right on River Road.
The things they said to each other! Not nice at all. I’d be grounded for a week if I said just one of the words they used. The more they yelled and swore at each other, the more the girls giggled, and the more me and Bart tried not to laugh. The white butts shook their fists at me and Bart.
“You guys need some help?” Bart asked. “Maybe some suntan lotion or something?”
Annie and Ellen started laughing. I started laughing because they were laughing. Fred and Billy weren’t laughing. It was still funny.
“Maybe you should move your naked butts to the sidewalk where it would be safer if car comes along,” Bart added.
At that, the two girls started laughing hysterically. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to cry. By then, Fred and Billy were one jumbled mess of bicycles, legs, and arms trying to get the towels free.
Then the girls continued their walk while the two in the road squatted back to us still trying to free their towels. Bart looked at me with a slight smile. Yes, it was time for us to move on as well. The girls were still giggling when we passed them and Bart waved. I kept my head down.
The bullies wouldn’t live this down easily. Me and Bart were the only ones who knew what happened to their clothes, and we weren’t talking. It was a good day and who knows, there is always tomorrow.
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