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Knoll's End

Short Stories / Short Story Vignettes

This examins how the need to belong can have potentially dangerous consequences.

There was a time when my friends and I would walk through the woods, onto the hill above the creek and we would play like Indians. We gathered at the knoll of that hill where we shared one bow and one arrow. I can't remember how many times we played that game, but it began soon after Augie's eleventh birthday in June. Unlike the rest of us, Augie was an only child as well as the oldest of our gang. He would get the neatest stuff from his parents, and they would let him have just about anything he wanted. Sometimes Augie would let us shoot his bow and arrow out on that high, grassy knoll. It was a strategic place for us to play and survey our surroundings. The fields and flood plains ran down to the creek and beyond to the railway tracks, while the woods shielded us from the view of our parents.



Up on that hill, we would face one another, shoulder to shoulder in a circle, and we would shoot that arrow straight up and wait for it to arc and land nearby for someone else to have a turn. The one closest to where the arrow landed would shoot next. The last time we ever played that game was on that searing summer's day in August and it was my turn to shoot. Since it was just past noontime, the sunlight overhead blinded us from the path of the trajectory. We knew, however, that arrows always arc, and each time one of us would launch one, it would stick into the ground several yards behind one of us as we stood in our circle.



Since I was the youngest of the gang, I would take extra careful aim, for I didn't want them to make fun of me for screwing things up once again. Even though I was reluctant, I always went along with whatever everyone else was doing. Often Augie and my brother, Jack, who was almost as old as Augie, would take turns at playing follow the leader. I would always wind up being the last to go along, but I would always go just the same, like when I jumped off of the old forge mill's roof, or climbed through the sludge of one of the creek's drain pipes that stunk to high heaven and holy hell. Once I followed them up on a sand cliff overlooking the flats. We had imagined that we had a whole new mountain to conquer, but I wound up being stuck there about twenty feet from the top for over an hour.



The other boys who were up above started to laugh at me and prodded me on, but then they moaned and complained that it was getting late and they threatened to leave me there. Finally, when it was obvious that I was afraid to go any higher, Jack had to go down and around and come up under me. He guided me back down the way we came. We had to get home before our mom came looking for us for being late for supper. Our dad would be home from work just long enough to wash up and eat before leaving for his other job. His having to discipline us on such short notice was not a pleasant prospect for any one of us. The other guys had similar fates awaiting them if they were late, and that's why they were ticked off at me for spoiling their newfound adventure.



The guys all kept on me after that one, saying I was as slow as molasses in January and a wormhole, whatever that was supposed to mean. I knew by my rank in age that I could never meet up to their expectations, although by then, other than to keep my mouth shut about all of our mischief, it really wasn't all that much. Whenever our parents asked us what we were up to, I'd say something like, "Nothin', just playin' up in the woods an' out in the fields." If I were to say the truth such as, "We was spearin' frogs near the marsh an' pokin' sticks in the tar pits after climbin' over the railway cars," we'd all catch hell from our folks and I would get it twice as much from the guys. They'd not only beat on me, with Jack and Augie being first in line as usual, and they'd never let me play with them again, ever. Then, since there was no one else in our neighborhood around my age, I'd be stuck with my younger brother, Kirby, and all of his donkey-ass friends.



However, since I kept my mouth shut, the older boys would let me tag along with them. They'd even teach me some new tricks now and then, like how to smoke old swing-vine sticks like stogies, how to set fires with a magnifying glass or make stink bombs out of powdered eggs and charcoal. All along, I would come home with these secrets, relishing in the glory of belonging to something larger than my family's modest household. I would sleep with the satisfaction of having participated in some grand adventure. Upon awakening, there was the promise of yet more adventures lingering throughout the seemingly endless summer days. Nevertheless, I was always the last in line for everything and the guys would razz me about having to have most things explained to me from start to finish.



I never knew, for instance, why it was such a big deal that one time that we snuck up on that guy and girl and we threw stuff at them from below the banks of the creek. They were just lying there on the blanket, and I didn't see why it was that we should be bothering them. The guys had to tell me what it was that the two were doing, and that actually they weren't supposed to be doing it at all. Even after they explained it right out to me and made me feel like a wormhole and all, I still didn't feel that we had the right to be there. Nevertheless, like always I tagged along, and when it was finally my turn to throw something at them my stick missed its mark by a long shot. Just the same, I was the one that was caught when everyone else ran away.



The guy came at me from behind and just shook me a bit while the girl sat back, looking embarrassed. Finally, he told me to go and never breath a word of my being there and what I had seen. It wasn't all that much though, since I really wasn't sure of what it was I was supposed to be seeing in the first place. When I caught up with the guys later, however, I was made up to be some sort of hero for having survived being captured, and they let up on me at least for that short while. I knew then that, somehow, I had to show them that I was big enough to belong with them so that they would stop picking on me for good.



That day that I stood on the knoll with the bow and arrow, I just wanted to shoot straight and high enough without losing it in the tall grass or the woods. We were all tired out from running away from our imaginary nemesis, Hobo Joe, who always seemed to be lurking in the shadows. Our thoughts then turned to playing like Indians because they were brave and wouldn't be bothered by such trivial matters as hobos. We were emboldened by the sun that cut our own shadows across the insignificant weeds beneath our feet. It was my turn to shoot, and by chance alone, this time I was not the last in line. I knew that if I pulled back too far on the bow I would loose control.



Once I got a friction burn across my cheek and all along the inside of my arm from the whip of the string. The arrow just wavered along before dropping to the ground, and I had to hold back my tears as they all laughed at me. If I didn't pull back far enough, it would lob in the air for just a brief moment, and then drop off just the same. As I squinted to keep the sun from searing the backs of my eyeballs, my breath was shallow and even, and my hands were steady. I aimed straight up and much further than I had ever imagined before. I was looking down at insignificant children playing insignificant little games. I held in my hands the power of the universe. When I closed my eyes, all existence ended in the brief moment of my release. When it landed directly in the center of our circle it was as if a bomb had exploded among us.

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Short Stories / Short Story Vignettes

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