The Last Summer of Grand Adventure
Grandma thought a boy should be out of the house on a beautiful mid-summer day. So he had shut off the game, grabbed grandpa’s pocket knife, and stuffed a fistful of the leftover lady fingers into his shorts and went looking for adventure.
The ladyfingers might be duds, he had left them on the picnic table after the fireworks and the morning dew had gotten to them. But they had potential. The pocket knife wasn’t really grandpas, it was his, but it had been a gift from his grandpa when he’d got out of elementary school. It’d been his inheritance. He’d carried it with him every day for the last three years.
“A boy can’t find near as much adventure without a good knife,” grandpa had written in the note, “as he can with one. Be a good boy.”
So Paul took it with him everywhere. And everywhere he went he looked for adventure.
Paul found his walking stick where he’d thrown it, near the base of the black maple that marked the edge of the woods. It wasn’t really a wood, more a little plot of undeveloped land down the road from his house. It was lightly wooded, with lots of open spaces full of waist high grass, and a maze of dirt tracks cleared by kids on BMX and teenagers on dirtbikes. But it was wild and untamed by streets, sidewalks, and most importantly houses.
It was a wild place. Not as wild as the big woods had been, but they’d be gone soon. The bulldozers and machines had shown up in April and the wide swaths that would soon be roads were already cut and edged with cement curbs throughout. Next would come the pavement and then the houses and then the big woods would be gone. But he still had these woods.
He grabbed his walking staff and headed off toward the big lake, where it was more heavily wooded and that much more exciting. He spun the staff like a baton, swung it two handed, and smacked a bunch of green helicopters off a low hanging branch. Down by the water was where the teenagers partied, by the shoreline under the canopy of the big willow tree, out of site from any casual observer and far enough from the road that the police wouldn’t hear them.
He could probably collect enough empties to buy a pop and a Snickers at Richardson’s. And maybe he could find more girly magazines, there hadn’t been any there last time, but the time before he’d found two that hadn’t been ruined by the rain. A half sodden copy of Juggs, full of the biggest boobs he had ever seen, and another with the cover missing that actually showed people doing it. He had taken them home and hidden them in the basement, but his brother had found them and then gotten them taken away by his friend’s mother. Thankfully, his mother hadn’t found them, or been called.
Paul was a little nervous. Not as much as he had been earlier in the summer, but now he’d done this a few times on his own. Mostly he came down here with Grant and Ares, but they were both gone.
Ares was gone every summer, traveling around with his parents doing all sorts of weird stuff. Like last summer, Ares claimed they went to Alaska to look for gold and count bears. Ares didn’t think much of it, but it sounded cool to Paul.
Grant was off spending a month with his grandparents in the U.P., which sounded fun too. Grant’s grandparents were right on the edge of some big woods, one of the national forests. Grant had taken him there once. But all Paul had was these woods and the nightly fights between his parents. So here he was walking in the woods, hoping to find something exciting to share with Grant when he came back. Maybe even something to rival whatever Ares had gotten up to this summer.
As Paul reached the slope he stopped and gave a long listen. He couldn’t see anyone with all the trees, but if they were being rowdy you’d hear them. Sure, there was always the chance of being chased off by the teenagers if he stumbled on them, but he was pretty sure they came down there at night. There were signs of a campfire and some of the magazines and beer cans he’d found were burnt.
He’d heard someone down there once, but hadn’t ventured close enough to see what they were doing. You never knew what the older kids would do. To Paul, teenagers were a whole different species. The girls were different than the girls in his class and different from the moms. The boys were unpredictable and mostly mean. They drank. They smoked. They were always kissing. And they had these magazines. He liked those magazines. You had to be careful around teenagers.
Paul knew that by Christmas, they’d all be fifteen themselves, he and Grant and Ares. They were already teens, but next year they’d be real teenagers, high school kids. Girlfriends. Driver licenses. Jobs. He was not looking forward to it. He’d actually like to go back to sixth-grade and recess three times a day. He found the path and slipped down into the trees.
The first thing he noticed was that someone had dragged an old couch into the clearing under the big willow and left it near the camp fire pit. The second thing made him freeze in his tracks. Then, very slowly, and very quietly, he stepped back and off the path. He slipped into the tall grass and behind a small oak tree. Concealing himself where he could still see, but was pretty sure he wouldn’t be seen.
Right here in front of him. In the shade of the willow. His willow. There was a naked girl in the lake.
A very pretty naked girl.