Monday, May 04, 2009
The Night We Ran From Pan
Have you ever been scared shitless? Just flatout scared to the point that you could die from the fright alone?
I have. I have felt the chilly, lead-like drops of sweat stand out on my face as my heart skipped a beat in the uncertainty of whether or not it was going to continue to have a job in the next thirty-seconds. My feet filled with helium and my stomach turned into a fist. My eyes unbidden bulged, and I could almost hear my pupils snap all the way open in order to better perceive the threat, and worst of all, my bunghole clamps shut with the force of the will to live and 10,000 years of survival instinct. My thoughts were limited to two: fight or flight and devil take the hindmost. I have been scared shitless.
At the time, I had just arrived at the tender age when the state had deemed me old enough to obtain a driver's permit, but as cold, hard cash was not coming my way in more than five dollar amounts at a time, it just didn't seem that important. It was August and the heat and the humidity hovered at one hundred and the air was thick with haze. But no self respecting teen aged kid is going to let the discomfort of the heat to keep him from his regular round of shenanigans regardless of the cool of the indoors and the absence of mosquitoes.
I ventured out after dinner to meet my buddies, Matt and Carl, who were my partners in crime and my boon companions. These two miscreants were to introduce me to many adventures that I am mildly ashamed to have taken part in, but I wouldn't trade the times we had for a million dollars. We met at the fort to plan the evenings festivities. Now the fort was not a fort per se, but a comfortable shack we had constructed from left over lumber from my barn. It was a comfy 8x8 with paneling, a loft, a trapdoor that lead to the secret exit underneath. The furniture and stereo were "liberated" from the local junkyard and never really lost their wet goat smell.
The three of us would get together every evening after dinner to have a pinch of snuff (as that is when snuff tastes best- on a full belly) and shoot the bull while we played Rummy. This particular evening the topic of conversation could not seem to stray far from the heat. We had removed our T-shirts so we could use them to staunch the steady flow of sweat. Carl suggested that some cold beer would be just the ticket to our relief and he mentioned casually that he knew where some was. "We'll just go to Norm's" he said with a smile.
Norm was our neighbor and was a generally disliked cuss and possessed a foul temper. Norm also owned a keg in a fridge and a poorly locked garage door. Now I am heartily against stealing and always have been. I voiced my objections to Matt and Carl that evening, but was soundly outvoted by the majority. It was decided that Matt and Carl would purloin the beer as that was where their talent was, and I would serve as lookout in honor of my stance on stealing. As I grew older I learned what the word "culpable" and "accomplice" meant, but at the time this was enough to satisfy my loose code of ethics and we set out. "Besides," I reasoned, "Norm is enough of a dickhead that he deserves to contribute some cold beer to the common good." They jimmied the garage door up enough to slip inside and I watched the house with a nervous stare, thinking that at any moment, Norm was going to come busting out of the house with his rusty shotgun and give me something to think about other than my thirst or the humidity. After a few tense moments they scampered out with a milk jug full of cold, cheap beer. We headed for the fort in haste to enjoy our swag.
First off, beer should never be drank from plastic. It's just wrong, don't ask why. Beer from a plastic milk jug with a little bit of sour milk in the bottom should never be drank. Blatz beer shouldn't be drank at all, but there we were, passing the jug and giggling at the jokes from an old Playboy we had found by candle light while we began to scar our tender young livers. It was a hoot.
Now a young beer drinker is triply damned. First, he doesn't know what good beer tastes like and drinks swill, not knowing that good beer is much better, and it is always better when you pay for it rather than steal it. Second, He has no idea how much is too much or what to do once he has arrived at too much. Thirdly, his young bladder is not conditioned to hold a twelve pack at a time and quickly finds himself in dire need to make water.
By the time we consumed 2/3's of the gallon of beer, the air in the fort was thick with the smoke of our home rolled cigarettes (we used my dad's pipe tobacco) and our beers had hit bottom. It was time for some fresh air, a whiz, and a stroll. We stepped out into the cool night air and the fog had settled into the valley. The moon was bright blur behind the haze of clouds that promised no rain. In the gaps in the sky, I tried to pick through the handful of stars to spot Orion's Belt while I pissed loud enough to compete with the bubbling of the crick twenty yards away. The chorus of crickets and frogs croaked and chirped in time with the lightening bugs that were peppering the darkness. Every bug and animal seemed in full voice that night. The bats swooped in and out of the fog and stuffed themselves with mosquitoes without making a dent in the population. The grass was wet with dew and the air was hot, thick, still, and hard to breathe. Everything was awake, roasting, and restless, just like us.
It's is tough to describe the feeling of being young, thrilling to the off-kilter hormones and being mildly drunk to sauced, and seeing/hearing/feeling the world differently for the first time, while holding my dick in my hand and cutting loose with a racehorse-sized piss.
I finished and returned to my comrades as the moon faded completely from view. "Let's go for a walk" suggested Matt. "Let's go finish the beer!" Carl countered. "Naw, I think I'd rather have a little fresh air first. We can finish it later. Maybe if we stir around a little bit we can catch a breeze. Let's take a walk," I said. Carl looked more than a little sad that we weren't going to return to the jug any time soon, but majority ruled so we took a hike. We were drunken redneck country boys will a belly full of stolen beer, but we were a democratic lot and held to it.
"Where you wanta go?" Matt asked. I turned to Carl as I felt the dissenter should have some say. "Let's walk through the corn field" Carl said. While I didn't see much point in entering the cornfield in search of a breeze, Carl made the suggestion in such a way that he had something in mind. I figured that he was thinking of heading to the swimming hole for a late night dip and that didn't sound too bad to me. "Okay," I agreed, "but you lead."
Have you ever walked through a cornfield in late August? By this time the corn is full grown to seven or eight feet, yellowing, and the drooping leaves hang lower and have a sandpaper feel to bare skin that create papercut-like scratches, not to mention the amount of chaff that falls on you from the tassels on the top that tends to get caught in hair and sticks to sweaty bodies. There was a reason I asked Carl to lead and I followed Matt behind him. It makes a big difference if you follow someone as they hold back the leaves and all of the chaff falls on them; unless you are running.
Carl entered the cornfield at the usual point behind the fort but at the turn for the swimming hole, Carl went straight. Now walking a corn row at night, you get tunnel vision. There is only the back of the guy ahead of you and corn everywhere else. There just isn't anything else to see. Even the sky was blacked out by the corn. So you follow the guy ahead of you and try to not let the passing leaves slash you by staying close.
In midstride, Carl stops and Matt walks into him. As I'm crouching behind Matt, I hit him. "What's up Carl?" Matt says in a whisper. "There is a dude up there," Carl says in an ominous whisper back. "Let me see," Matt reaches over Carl's shoulder and parts a few leaves and looks down the row as the moon comes out from behind a cloud. "That's a goat," Matt said softly, "look at the feet. It's got hooves..." We held very still and tried not to breathe.
My first thought was that I had been the rube to a joke and that they were trying to pull a fast one on me. I can't see past them and the moonlight is only coming in a trickle anyway and all I see is corn, but I can feel Matt's back. I'm certain you have felt a cold shiver of fear run down your own spine, but have you ever felt it run down the spine of another? I have. It started at his shoulders and settled into his lower back like a coil spring sprung. Only twice in the thirty years I've known the man have I ever seen him frightened. This time and the time he had a heart attack. I'm not saying Matt is fearless, but it takes an awful lot to spook him.
I am not a witness to what they saw, but when Carl screamed like a little girl that "He's comin' at us!!!" I rethought his suggestion about relaxing on the comfy furniture that smelled like wet goat and finishing the rest of our beer. I mentioned this briefly as I turned tail and ran but I think it may have been articulated like "AHHHHHHH" amongst the sound of my pounding footsteps in the opposite direction. I have never been much of a fast runner as I built for endurance, not speed. This point was driven home when Matt decided that since he couldn't pass me, he would jump on my back and ride me like a rented mule, slapping me and screaming "Faster! Faster!". The extra one hundred and twenty pounds was not really much of a burden as the adrenaline dump was mixing with the alcohol in my system, but to complicate matters, Carl took a page from Matt's book and hopped on his back.
Now picture a running, screaming totem pole of mildly drunken kids bursting forth from a field of corn under the hazy summer moon. My feet only came to a halt when I threw them on the sofa of the fort and latched the door behind me. There was some discussion as to who should have the first pull at the jug now that we had returned, but since I was the one to haul their sorry asses from the maw of death by a vengeful faun, I felt I had every right to demand first pull.
Perhaps we deserved to be scared shitless by a mythical goat-man after swiping someone else's beer, but the slashes from the corn were to remind me of my transgression for days as I looked like I had been attacked by a cheese grater.