“You boys'll roll over in your sleep and be drowned before mornin’, mark my words.”
“Aw, Grandma, we ain’t either. We’re not babies! Shoot, you’d think we still fell outta bed.”
“Oh hush now, get on outta here before the sun gets outta sight. Now, you mind you tie up tight at that big tree, you hear me? I ain’t got it in my mind to go gallivant’n all over the county lookin' for you.”
“Uh huh, we will, Grandma, you can count on us, and we’ll bring back a big bunch of blackberries for that cobbler you promised, too.”
“You just see that you run a big stick under those bushes first. Don’t you forget now, Little Bob, or the snakes will get you."
“Okay, Grandma--here come the guys, I gotta' go.”
Little Bob picked up the lunch bucket filled with sandwiches and fruit, and quickly ran out the back door. He didn't hear grandma yell, “Don’t let that door slam!”
Grumbling, grandma quietly slipped up on the old stove and gently brought the door down just enough to peek inside, and to her dismay, saw the three layers of cake, the middles dipped and hollowed just like she’d feared they’d be. “Well shoot, I ain’t had a cake that ain’t fell since the Good Lord invented boy children, don’t know why I keep expectin' any different." She stepped out onto the back stoop to get a breath of cool air and watch the boys get ready for their big sleep-out on the river.
“Hey, Little Joe, how’s your daddy doin'?”
“Hey, Grandma ma’am, he’s doin' ok, his leg's still broke though. He’s so mad at that mule he said he’d sell it if he could find a fool with five dollars in his pocket.”
“Well, tell him and your momma hey for me. Where’s Ricky? I thought he was goin' with ya'll.”
“He is Grandma, we’re goin' to pick him up down the river a bit. He didn’t want to carry his stuff all the way over here, when we had to go back that way anyway. He said he didn’t see any sense in that.”
“Ricky always was a bright boy. He’s gonna' go places, that one.”
“You guys ready? Let’s go!” Jim was the most impatient of the lot. Thirteen, and raring for adventure.
“You boys better be careful now, or you’ll hear from me.” grandma warned, as she turned back toward the house to take the fallen cakes from the oven.
The three young boys sauntered across the neatly trimmed back lawn, through the fence of rose bushes, out through the kitchen garden where they each grabbed a couple of tomatoes, and on through the nest of oaks that had been growing along the river forever.
The raft was a good one, well built with strong lumber and good rope holding the boards fast to the log frame. It didn’t leak much. The boys had borrowed tar from Joe’s father, and sloshed it on well. The strong fishy odor of the water masked the smell of tar. They had talked about anchoring an awning to protect them from the sun and rain, but so far had been unable to salvage a good piece of canvas. It was still in the planning stage. Someday they would finish, but tonight they were sleeping under the moon, watching the stars. Each had brought his own favorite pole, sanded smooth, with his name carved into it. Climbing onto the raft and pushing off was completed flawlessly. They were on their way!
About a quarter of a mile down river, they picked up Ricky and his two younger brothers, Mac and Luke. It took no effort or skill to float down river, so they just used the time to grin foolishly at each other, and feel the excitement of sleeping out, away from home.
“Shootfire! I wish I’d brought my fishing pole, look at the size of that carp, a two-feeter!” exclaimed Ricky.
“Shoot, you don’t need a pole Rick, reach down and grab one!” Joe laughed.
“Aw, we couldn’t clean‘em anyway, I forgot my pocketknife.” answered Ricky.
“Look at all the eels, Mac! Where they comin' from?” Luke wanted to know as he nervously watched the water.
“We probably disturbed their nest, Luke. You wanna' be careful and not let your feet hang over; they’ll suck all your blood out.”
Luke glared at Mac while he quickly pulled his feet from the water, dismayed at seeing dozens of the sleek, black, snake like eels all around the raft. He looked round eyed at Ricky, questioning if it was true.
“Will they Ricky? Will they really?”
“Nah, Mac’s pullin' your leg, Luke. They don’t suck all the blood out.”
“That’s right Luke, they leave enough so you can run home and be too scaredy to come back.” laughed Jim.
“You’re all lyin'. Shut up or you’re gonna’ be sorry!”
When they'd arrived at the place they were going to stay, they poled over to the bank. Ricky and Little Bob jumped off to tie the twenty-five-foot rope securely around the tree trunk. The raft was bobbing gently about fifteen feet from the bank.
Being growing boys, they were starving, so each pulled out his lunch bucket and lying back on his quilt, watched the sparkle of millions of stars and talked. Once in a while someone would exclaim over a falling star and wonder where it had fallen. One by one they fell asleep, curled up with a quilt pulled over his head to keep the mosquitoes out, all except Luke. Luke was thinking of revenge.
It was after midnight when the boys woke, hearing Luke mumbling and crying. Mac pulled the quilt from his face to see what the ruckus was about.
“Hey Luke, what’s the matter?” whispered Mac.
Luke pointed toward the bank and continued sobbing while scooting up close to Ricky. Mac looked in the direction the finger pointed while the other boys sat up, whispering to each other. “What is it? What’s goin' on?”
“Shhhsh! Look! There’s somebody over there lookin' at us!” Mac replied, in a voice so low it could barely be heard.
“Where? You’re nuts, I don’t see nothin'.” Jim whispered.
“Look there in front of the berry bushes; he’s sittin' right there!”
As a cloud cleared the moon, they were able to see a hat upon a head, upon a large body, which was calmly sitting on the ground watching the boys. He would occasionally move to brush the mosquitoes from his face, but otherwise, he remained perfectly still.
“What we gonna' do, Little Bob?” asked Jim.
“We can’t do nothin’, Jim! Just hush, be quiet. I ain’t gonna' go up there to untie the rope! Are you?”
“Shootfire! You kiddin'? I’m gonna' sit right here. I gotta' go to the bathroom though, what if he comes over here?” Jim squeaked, like maybe he was fixing to cry or something.
Seeing Jim's fear caused Luke to begin trembling again. Ricky quickly placed an arm around him and pulled the quilt up over both their heads.
No one said a word the rest of the night. Luke and Ricky had curled up in Ricky’s quilt, talking quietly to each other. The boys knew Luke was still crying because they could see the quilt shaking over his shoulders, and heard Ricky’s low voice trying to calm him. He eventually calmed down and dozed off.
The other four boys scooted close together, huddled under a couple of shared quilts and whispering about wishing they hadn’t forgot to bring a pocketknife; they could’ve sawn through the rope and skedaddled by now. Meanwhile, there was nothing to do but watch the figure, making sure he stayed put, while the figure watched them. They sure wished Ricky would wake up and help them watch.
Morning arrived slowly, but arrive it did. Daylight came first to the crew and then slowly it seeped into the edge of the woods. The boys sat up, drowsy, groggy and upset to find they'd fallen asleep. With fluttering hearts they raised their eyes toward the figure on the bank.
“Who did that?”
"Somebody’s idea of a joke!”
“Hey, that’s my hat!”
“It's just an old limb lyin 'cross the berry bushes.”
“Look, that branch looks just like an arm!”
“How’d my hat get over there?”
All the boys talking at once caused such a rumble, it woke Ricky and Luke.
They sat up, stretching and yawning after a good nights rest. They looked over to the others and saw fear and confusion written all over their red faces. Then as they looked at each other they couldn’t hold their glee inside any longer. They began to laugh, and they laughed some more.
“Don’t worry Jim, it’ll only make you run home and be too scaredy to come back!” laughed Luke.
Luke had asked Ricky to help him during the night. They'd pulled the rope to drag the raft close to the bank so Luke could take Jim’s straw hat and a bandanna to dress a berry bush. Aw, revenge is sweet for a eight-year-old.