Boy Scouting was an escape for me. The structured meetings, scout leaders, friendships, camping trips, and material I learned helped shield me from home. Don’t be confused. My life wasn’t that bad, but my father was a strict disciplinarian. I was afraid to say or do anything around him for fear of catching a backhand against my head. So, just after my eleventh birthday, I joined the Boy Scouts.
I became absorbed with learning life skills scouting taught. I learned the classification of trees, plants, animals, rocks, and fossils. I became an expert at tying knots. Using a map and compass became second nature to me. I love what I learned in Boys Scouts. I love the friendships I made in scouting. I love how scouting taught me skills to become a decent human. But most of all, I loved the games we played while camping.
We played different kinds of games. Of course, some activities were not considered games by merely looking at what we were doing, but the participation in them became a game of bravery. Cutting a vine loose from a tree, swinging out over a deep gully, and leaping from the vine to another tree in the distance is just a glimpse of a foolish act of courage we determined what turned a boy into a man.
Boys. That’s what we were through and through. We were friends, enemies, and Boy Scouts. I was the youngest in the Troop, and I received my fair share of wedgies to validate that fact. The other boys’ ages ranged from twelve to seventeen, and it was a constant fight between us to prove who was alpha.
Dean, Bryan, Chris, and Brad were the other members of my Troop. Each one possessed a characteristic, we were all cocky jerks, but boys are boys. Our jerkiness showed as soon as our scout leaders were out of sight. We intensified the moments of rudeness whenever we played any game. We played no other game to help solidify who had the biggest balls other than Hide-and-seek. Sometimes, the game would last for hours and span several acres, all at night. Here is the story of one such game:
“Before ya’ll headed out to da woods, ya better clean up dis mess!” Mr. Felix shouted at the boys as they were getting ready to play hide-and-seek. His Cajun accent caused Chris to laugh.
“What did he say?”
“He said we have to clean before we play the game,” Dean said as he grabbed a garbage bag from the Troop’s trailer.
“What kind of language is that?”
“It’s called English, moron!” Bryan said as he slapped Chris in the back of the head. Red marks began to show through his buzz cut.
“I wouldn’t let him slap you around like that. Hit him back!” Brad said as he nudged Chris.
“Nah, don’t wanna fight. That dude’s a butt hole,” Chris said as he glanced at Bryan, “What’s his problem anyhow?”
“You didn’t hear?” Josh said.
“Hear what?” Chris said.
“His Dad was just arrested. He’ll probably be in jail a long time.”
“Yeah, he beat his wife. I think he beat Bryan too,” Brad added to the conversation.
Chris, Josh, and Brad looked to where Bryan and Dean were cleaning the picnic tables when they saw Mr. Felix take off his shirt and use it as a cleaning rag.
“Woo! You are a hairy dude!” Chris said as he laughed.
“What ya spect? I’s a smooth man? Naw boys, I’s a real man!” Mr. Felix pounded his chest like a gorilla as his teeth beamed through his dark beard. “Now, grab dat bag der, Chris, and carry it to da trash.”
“Yes, Sir,” Chris said as he picked up the trash bag. “Ah! Snake!”
Chris dropped the trash bag, tripped over an ice chest, and fell on his face. Josh thought he looked like a drunk clown as Chris’ face bounced on the grass. These were the times when Mr. Felix, or Uncle Felix to Josh, played one of his jokes on the boys. He waited patiently. He was silently contemplating his next move. And, when you least expected anything to happen, wham! Uncle Felix would play one of his practical jokes.
“Haha! Oh, boy! ya shoulda seened yo-self! Ya ranned liked a lil’ girl!”
“Ha, you got me,” Chris said as he stood and looked at the toy snake, “I thought that was a real snake!”
“Naw, just a fake un,” Uncle Felix said as he grinned, “Y’all can go now. Don’t do dumb tings!”
“Yes, Sir!” the boys shouted almost in unison as they ran towards a clearing near the woods. Josh was ready to play hide-and-seek, and he hoped that is what everyone else wanted to play as well.
“Alright, we will draw straws to see who gets the shortest two. Whoever does is it,” Dean said as he opened his backpack.
“So, who’s it?” Bryan said as the boys compared the straws.
“Well, it looks like it’s Brad and me,” Josh said.
“You can’t be no sissy,” Brad said as he looked down at Josh, “These woods get dark at night. Heard demons haunt them.”
Josh heard the tales before, and he thought some might be true. However, he didn’t get spooked easily. Brad tried to exude machismo, but Josh knew it was just a cover for what a big sissy he was.
Brad punched Josh’s arm, “Come on. Are we gonna count, or what?”
“Let’s get this game started!” Dean shouted as he and the other boys ran into the woods.
“Forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty! Ready or not, here we come!” Josh yelled as he and Brad began looking for the others in his Boy Scout Troop. He narrowed his blue eyes and investigated the forest surrounding their campsite.
“It is super dark tonight!” Josh said.
“You ain’t lying,” Brad said in agreement, “Do ya think they went deep out in the woods?”
“I hope not. It’ll be harder to find them. Plus, Uncle Felix will have the cobbler done in about an hour.”
“Yeah, let’s find ‘em and get our turn over with.”
Josh nodded as they began searching the woods for the other boys. The Troop nestled their campsite in the middle of the Dam Site Recreational Park, and it offered an expanse of woodland for the boys to engage in whatever mischief they could dream up. The Troop was camping at Greers Ferry Lake near Heber Springs, Arkansas, to participate in the yearly conservation project headed by the Army Corp of Engineers. The event was huge, and thousands of people gather each year to help collect trash from the shoreline, build retaining walls, and complete various tasks. But, even during a busy time, the boys always found a way to play in the woods.
Josh ducked under a low-hanging branch, stopped, and whispered, “Did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Brad said.
“I thought I heard a branch snap out that-a-way.” Josh pointed toward a deep ravine covered with thick underbrush.
“I heard it too. Maybe it’s a deer?”
“Maybe. Let’s keep lookin’ for them.”
The boys crept down into the ravine. Josh squinted in the darkness, “Is it just me, or does it feel strange around here?”
“No, it’s not just you…” Brad’s voice trailed off when the boys heard the most horrible sound Josh thought they had ever heard.
“Wha…what was that!” Brad stuttered.
“I, I don’t know.”
“Grrr…WOOOOOOOO!” a guttural howl echoed from deep within the ravine.
“Look, what is that?” Josh yelled.
“It looks like a werewolf!” Brad screamed as he turned and started sprinting up the ravine. Josh followed Brad as he looked back to see a mangled figure lunge in their direction. Josh ran faster toward their campsite when he saw Brad sprawled on the ground.
“Josh, help! I’m tangled in these stupid vines!”
“Stop squirming! I can’t cut the vine with you kicking around like that!”
“Don’t cut me!”
“You wanna get eaten up, or maybe get a nick on your leg?”
“Just get me out of these vines!”
Josh managed to cut through a web of vines just as the boys saw the dark figure climbing the ravine towards them.
The snarling and howling sent a chill down Josh’s spine. He felt sweat burn his eyes as the sound of his heart was pounding in his ears. He helped Brad to his feet just as the figure leaped toward the boys.
“Agh!” Brad yelled as the werewolf-looking thing grabbed his arm, “He’s got ahold of me! Save yourself!”
Josh looked at Brad with fear and felt like he would faint when he saw the werewolf face to face. But then Josh saw what he thought would eat him for dinner.
“Haha!” Josh grabbed his stomach and began laughing hysterically.
“Why are you laughing at me! I’m gonna die!” Brad yelled as his face turned pale.
“Look at your werewolf!” Josh continued laughing.
“What,” Brad screamed, “Mr. Felix, I can’t believe it!”
“Well, I believe I’s scared ya both!” Mr. Felix said as he started laughing.
“Man, Uncle Felix,” Josh said, “your hairy chest and all that noise you were making made us think you were a real werewolf!”
“Dat was da point.” Uncle. Felix said.
“Well, I think I’m done with hide-and-seek for the night,” Brad said as he looked at the ground.
“Dude, did you pee yourself?” Josh said as he began laughing even more.