A group of punks test the manhood of some neighborhood boys and lose in the end.
|Tommy Vachon was leaning up against my garage, poking at the sole of one of his sneaks with a stick.
"Dog crap?" I asked.
"Gum." Killers getting a death sentence sound more thrilled.
"Where'd you step in it?"
"In the driveway. My stupid little brother always spits his wad in the driveway. He likes to stretch it out when it melts in the sun. Ticks my mother off to no end. My step dad ain't none too happy when it sticks to his tires. He gets pink and orange gum stuck to the runnin' boards on his truck."
Tommy scraped and pushed at the gum stuck in the treads of his Pumas.
"My sister says if you put gum in the freezer, it'll just break off wicked easy."
He looked up at me. "Oh yeah. My mother will love that. She goes to get out the waffles and she hits the freakin' roof when she sees my shoe in there."
"Naw, not yours. Frenchie's got that big freezer in the car port. That's what I meant."
I saw the light dawn in his eyes and Tommy said, "Yeah, let's go!"
He tossed the stick in the grass and started across old man Mundy's yard. Ol' man Mundy'd gone back to work, bored yelling at us to get out of his yard since he retired I guess, so we crossed without a hassle. Tommy hopped the hedge but me, I just waded through. I tried once and came down in the middle, breaking off a good chunk of bush inside my t-shirt. Frenchie's dad 'bout had stroke he was so pissed. Good hedges made good fences and all that crap.
Tommy went straight to the car port. Me, I went up to the door and knocked on the aluminum sheet on the screen door. Inside, Greta started barking. She waddled her fat butt out to me and continued to bark.
"Chrissy! Shut that dog up!" Frenchie's mother yelled from somewhere in the house. Chris appeared, gave Greta a swat on the butt. "Jeez, dog, shut up! You know Simon." Greta barked at me one more time half-heartedly and wandered back into the house.
"Hey," I said.
"T'sup?" he responded. This is all kid-speak for, "Hello. How are you." "Oh I'm fine. What's going on?"
"So, we still doing it." You could hear the question in his voice.
I shrugged. "I guess so."
"Nah. Tommy's down stickin' his shoe in your freezer. Stepped in gum."
"He know where the key is?"
Just then we heard Tommy swear, then, "Jeez-Louise, what the heck is this?"
A little grin crossed Frenchie's face. "Oh yeah. My brother Johnny hit a deer the other night. He put it in the freezer so he could gut it."
Frenchie went back inside and I could hear the gurgle of milk being dumped down the drain and the rattle of his spoon in his bowl as he put his breakfast dish in the sink. Then he was out again with me, heading down to the car port. Our steps rang on the iron stairs down to the driveway. We found Tommy sitting on one of the dead riding mowers, one shoe on, the other we guessed to be in the freezer.
"Hey!" French said.
"What the heck is that thing in the freezer, man? Freakin' moose?"
"Nah. A deer. Johnny hit a deer the other night; creamed it. Thought he'd freeze it so it wouldn't spoil."
We stood around while Tommy's shoe chilled with the ravaged corpse of the deer. I took a quick peak. The antlers were broken off and it was clear the neck was broken since the head was flopped back on itself. The ruined face and pulped eye were encrusted by torn, frozen flesh and crystalline droplets of blood. I shivered and dropped the lid.
"Think they'll show?" I asked.
"Gould will, Hunter, maybe. Woodsie's too chicken," French said.
"Woods is the only smart one of them then," I said. I drifted around the carport, just looking at the accumulated junk. Shovels, pitchforks, a hoe, garden rakes, two axes.
Tommy hopped around then jumped up to grab a rafter overhead. He positioned his hands, then started doing pull-ups with his head bent forward so it was the back of his neck coming up to the rafter. No one questioned who was the strongest one around--Tommy took the trophy for that, hands down.
"Eight, nine, ten!" Tommy grunted, then dropped to the ground, wiping his hands on his shorts.
"Freakin' show-off," French said.
"Like to see you try, Chris-piss," Tommy taunted. I could see trouble brewin'.
"Hey, I may be weak but I can run faster than you."
"Yeah, you get lots of practice, runnin' from fights." Oh man, here we go. Every freakin' time, I swear.
"Uh-huh. But the cops never come to my house."
There was a long pause and I thought Tommy was going to come back with something else, a fist maybe, but he didn't. I guess the cops puttin' the 'cuffs on him after the last fight and driving him to the station put a little scare in him. If that was possible. Instead, Tommy hopped over to the freezer and pulled his sneaker out. The silence was explosive as he put on the sneaker.
"Hey! You guys down there?" It was Joe. We heard the sound of him hopping the hedge and the ring of his landing on the iron stairs.
"Down here," I called, relieved that Joe's appearance would head off yet another round between the two.
I walked out from under the car port, Frenchie in tow.
"T'sup?" Joe asked.
I shrugged. "Waiting for these phlegm wads to get off their thumbs."
"We gonna do it?"
"I'm in," Tommy said, grinding his shoe on the pavement to get rid of the gum.
"Yeah, me too," said the French-man.
"Bet those pussies won't show," Joe said.
There was another one of those pauses, the kind that are long and loud and meant to give punks, punks like us an opportunity to steer clear of a stupid idea. We missed it completely.
"Let's go," Joe said. And we did.
We walked in silence most of the way and in my head that little angel that's supposed to keep me out of trouble kept throwing out feeble excuses to get me out of this seriously deadly idea. But you gotta listen for something like that to stick. Puttin' that dingleberry Hunter and his trailer-trash friends in their place--that spoke loud and clear to me. We headed up the lane, a rutted, dirt road that ran between our neighborhood and the Avenue. Tress hung low just above us, blackberry bushes grew wild on our right and Hughs' apple orchard was on our left.
We walked mostly in silence, except for Tommy singing "Hotel California" to himself. He was always singing something by the Eagles, Steve Miller Band or Boston. Stuff with lots of guitar. I didn't want to do this. I was chicken and honestly I didn't give a rat's tale who knew. I was no fan of heights--the French-man and Joe knew it and didn't care. But Hunter would never let me forget I was chicken. Never. And Woods would tell everyone. My bravery for thumbin' my nose at Hunter was waning. The reality of the tower was creepin' in pretty fast now.
We walked up the sidewalk, cars passing. At the chestnut tree by Hunter's apartment building, Frenchie picked up a couple of chestnuts and peeled off the green, prickly skin. Joe made him drop them. Across the Avenue and buried under unkempt silver maples was the beginning of the Abby Sawyer Memorial Highway, a short and steep road that rose straight to the top of Garrison Hill. Garrison Hill in Dover was just on the other side of the Hollow and a spot for hanging out for kids looking to get in trouble. We went there often. Top of the hill had a big water tank and the remains of an iron tower. That rust-eaten tower was our was destination.
The tower was built in 1913 or something like that, replacing a wooden one that burned down. The city neglected it and the wooden steps rotted out of the iron stairs. By the time we were big enough to get into a heap of trouble of our own doing, the city had fenced off the base with a ten foot fence topped by barbed wire. It was obvious the city didn't want kids to climb the rusting hulk; the first two or three flights of stairs had been cut out, the fence with its prickly top, and signs screaming "Danger! Keep Out!"
Of course we had to climb it. And that was the challenge. Hunter and his lap dogs were saying we were too chicken and so we had to prove our manhood. As if using urinals on a regular basis didn't already prove that. So up we trudged. Me? I was hoping like heck Hunter would sleep in, forget about us. Once you were up in the girders climbing, you were trapped. When the sirens start you can't just shimmy your way down all that rusted iron. And you still had to get over the fence. We'd be sittin' ducks, cooked gooses and hung out to dry. My parents would beat me into tomorrow, too.
We were cresting the top when the wind blew. It blew hard. We stopped. Just like that. We all just stopped. It wasn't a single gust but a steady push. The leaves of the trees over hanging the road above us were all flipped over, roiling dust blew in our faces.
"Anyone know the weather?" Joe asked.
"Chance of thunderstorms this afternoon but they been sayin' that for weeks," I said. Dead leaves and trash swirled among us and I could feel my hair flapping on the back of my neck. The wind picked up a bit more momentarily, then dropped off, like someone just shut the window.
The tower, still some fifty yards ahead of us, groaned as its iron shanks shifted. Then dead silence.
"What the heck was that?" Frenchie asked in a whisper. His eyes were as bill as golf balls and his skin was ashes.
Tommy was the first. "I'm not doing it." He shook his head, that wild curly hair he had swinging to emphasize his decision. Joey followed.
"Fine by me," I said. Frenchie giggled a little, looked like he'd just managed to take a leak before his bladder exploded.
"Hey, chickens! Bawk-bawk ba-gawk!" Hunter, already clinging to the rails high up on the observation platform, had seen us emerging from the trees. John Gould was next to him. Gould was actually standing on the railing and held on to a girder supporting the roof.
We walked slowly into the clearing around the platform, looking up at Hunter, Gould and David Woods. Woodsie had turned so white he shown like a fluorescent rod under the rusty dome.
"You chickens comin' up?" Hunter called. We walked, silent, looking up. Tommy finally spoke up for us.
"Nope! We ain't stupid!"
Gould and Hunter laughed and mocked us with chicken clucking. Not Woodsie. He was silent, staring at nothing. Another blast of wind; steady and powerful, it stopped us in mid-stride. Hunter and Gould went silent as the wind whipped around them.
The tower, top-heavy, inflexible and weakened with years of rust and neglect, shuddered. At the base, the corroded iron bowed out with a disharmonious moan of distressed metal. Tommy was the first to realize what was happening.
"Oh my God! It's coming down! Get off! Get off!" he screamed and lunged forward.
In slow motion I moved to follow Tommy but flashing in my head was the question of what we could do. We were on the ground and outside the fence; Hunter, Woods and Gould were on their own.
Iron continued to creak and judder as the legs bowed further, while the tower itself seemed to be sinking. Gould was over the side and scrambling to find hand-holds as he descended, Hunter not far behind. Woods was riveting in place, unseeing eyes staring, staring. A dark stain flowed down the inside of one leg.
We were all running toward the tower in its fatal descent when I became aware that the top seemed to be bending away from us. Hunter was dangling from a cross beam, Gould clung to a girder just below him. The tower trumpeted its demise, snapped with a clang and fell in on itself. The impact shook the earth beneath us.
Dust hit my face like a wall of soft cotton. My eyes burned and I blinked several times. The crushed roof of the tower was in front of us, blocking our view. Sound was momentarily suspended and then I became aware of screaming. It was high pitched and a cold knife slicing through my spine. We ran, ran to the tower, ran to the screaming. Tommy, Joe and I rounded the roof and we came up short. Hunter was on his feet, hobbling around, trying to keep the weight off his right leg. Gould was the screamer. He was laying on the ground with an iron cross-beam resting across his thighs, too close to the ground.
Gould continued to scream but his eyes were on an image I was struggling to bring into focus. It was like that game show Concentration: parts of the image came into focus but the whole image was still confusing. The jagged roof support, glistening wet, Woods beneath it. David Woods feebly reached up to the girder, pushed at it. Then silence. I looked over and Gould was out cold.
David Woods looked at us with pleading eyes, still pushing at the girder atop his mid-section. His legs twitched, feet jumping from nerves gone wild. "Help me," he said in a weak voice. He reached behind his head, hooked fingers through the barbed-wire and downed fence. And he pulled.
Woods moved away from the girder, his legs still pinned beneath. Blood spread quickly below his torso. David seemed to become aware of the direction of our gaze and he propped himself up on his elbows. His colon, a pale green color lay exposed. Intestines seemed to fall in slow motion fron the abdominal cavity. He shook his head. "No. No. Not this," he pleaded in a hoarse whisper. Then he began to cry in a very child-like way. "No, this isn't happening. It's not real-can't be real." His voice grew weaker.
I became aware of sirens sounding in the distance. The town fire horn blared a signal. I didn't need to count the blasts to know the firetrucks were on their way here. Movement to our right drew our attention. Hunter was moving away. His hobble became more pronounced and he fell. Without a sound he lurched to his feet and continued away. One word flashed in my head then: coward.
"Put them back," Woods said as his voic grew more faint. "Please, put them back." I looked back at Woodsie as he tried to push his intestines back in. They flopped out onto the bloody ground, uncoiling like a sleepy snake. I walked toward him and saw the light was fading from his eyes. His locked on mine.
"Did you see, Simon? I wasn't afraid. I was brave but now it's coming out. Help me put them back." He pushed feebly at the offal on the ground. Then, very weak, he spoke one more time. "I was brave, Simon. I was brave." His grew dull and his chest descended in its last breath. Woodsie was dead.