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Musing: Waning Days of Summer
In these waning days of summer, teachers prepare classrooms for the return of students and neighborhood kids play their last games. Seeing the annual rite, memories of my own care-free times bubbled to the surface. As so often happens, reality, memories, and fiction wove a story together in my mind.
A protruding tree root ripped Brent’s pants and jabbed his thigh, drawing a thin line of blood. He bit back the urge to cry out. He couldn’t show weakness in front of his squad. Nor did he want the enemy to hear their approach.
The silly injury was par for the course that day. He had started the morning by oversleeping. Being the last one in line for the shower meant an icy start, thanks to the dearth of hot water.
By the time he arrived for breakfast, he found an empty milk jug on the counter, a dribble of coffee remaining in the pot, and a single, cold hash brown patty. He toasted it to a crispy perfection, only to discover no ketchup. Washing the dry hash down with a swig of chilly coffee, he raced out the door to the rendezvous point, but only two members of his crew waited.
The enthusiasm at the beginning of the war had waned as the summer heat built and their numbers dwindled. Too many grew tired of the fighting and returned to girlfriends, parties, and all the other trappings of civilian life.
Maybe the defectors were right. In the early days, victories came easily as they took advantage of their enemy’s inexperience. They caught them out in the open and surprised them with swift assaults, swooping in and wreaking havoc. Before their targets recovered enough to return fire, Brent’s team would pull back and rearm, only to do it all over again. Some days, they would hit them three or four times.
But Noah proved to be a worthy opponent, much craftier than Brent had expected. Noah had planned and executed a late June intrusion that resulted in the theft of numerous weapons from Brent’s stash.
The rebels, now better equipped, set a mid-July trap. Brent’s assault team didn’t know what was happening when they found themselves outflanked and outgunned. Those purloined goods packed a punch.
Then, just last week, a surprise raid caught Brent and his companions flatfooted, unarmed and defenseless.
As their battlefield losses mounted, so did the defections. Brent’s former compatriots called the war silly, childish, and even unnecessary. They reached out to the enemy, made their own peace, and moved on with their lives. The cowards had laid down their arms and walked away.
But that wasn’t an option for Brent. This conflict was personal. They had to press forward, even if today’s mission was severely under manned with just the three of them.
Derek was a big, solidly built guy. Strong, but slow, both in physical speed and mental acuity. Whatever his shortcomings, though, Derek didn’t lack loyalty. He was in it until the end, whether that be victory or defeat. He liked the battle action too much.
Timmy was different. The little guy surprised Brent by lasting this long, but there he stood, whining about the same thing every day. Couldn’t they just call him Tim, not Timmy?
But what was the fun of that? Ribbing each other promoted camaraderie.
Brent had to give Timmy credit, though. Despite wanting to lounge in air conditioning and play video games, Timmy showed up every day ready for battle.
The good news was today’s mission was an ambush. Surprise mattered more than numbers.
Things had been quiet for several days as Noah and his guerrillas vanished during the daylight hours. Brent and his depleted group scoped their usual lairs, but they sat vacant and unused. Apparently, Noah had found a secret den.
No one knew where their refuge was. Or, at least, no one admitted knowledge. Brent suspected Noah had sympathizers among the citizens. People always rooted for the underdog.
In a stroke of luck, though, Brent found the nest. Yesterday morning, Brent’s team caught Noah and crew unawares. The skirmish was brief. No significant casualties were inflicted on either side before Noah led his team to a hasty retreat. On a hunch, Brent followed them. Alone—a dangerous and foolhardy move if he had been caught, but they never noticed.
Stealthily, he followed them deep into these woods and watched them disappear into a ravine. He slid on his belly to the edge and peered down. They sat on logs at the base, nursing their wounds. They were hidden, but vulnerable to an attack from above.
Brent slipped away and informed his band about the discovery. They debated attacking that day, but the hour was late. They let them think their location remained a secret overnight. The entire summer had been building to this last day—a final, epic battle—and Brent wanted to be ready. By letting them relax in their hidden nest, Brent could launch the final offensive when they least expected it.
Now the moment loomed as they crept toward their foes.
Ignoring his injured leg, Brent dug his fingers deep into the dirt and pulled his body along the uneven forest floor. He kept his focus trained on the edge of the ravine twenty yards ahead.
A silent approach was crucial. Just out of sight and down that hill, the unsuspecting enemy lounged. Their voices floated up, chattering and laughing, relaxed in their belief that their hideout was unknown.
As they neared the edge, Brent gave silent hand commands. He pointed at Derek and motioned with two fingers to simulate movement. He pointed to a spot at the edge of the ravine. Derek nodded his agreement, his eyes sparkling with excitement.
Brent repeated the commands to Timmy, except he pointed at a spot about six feet to the left. Timmy rolled his eyes in response, but moved in that direction. Insubordinate, but he did as he was told.
Brent gripped his weapon and slid forward into the center position. The hidden chatter below them grew clearer. Brent knew each voice well. All six of them. Twice the number remaining in Brent’s unit, but his confidence never wavered. They were older, wiser, and had surprise on their side. The echoing voices were lighthearted, laughing, and relaxed. They exhibited no sign they knew of the approaching doom about to rain punishment down on their heads.
When they were inches from the edge, shoulder to shoulder, brothers in arms, gripping their weapons, Brent glanced at his compatriots’ faces. Derek—confident, focused. Timmy—nervous, but determined.
Under Brent’s steady command, they pulled themselves forward as one and looked down into the abyss, aiming their weapons…
At an empty ditch. Vacant logs sat in a rough circle, seats for the enemy to relax. In the center was a boulder—a table, of sorts, cluttered with soda bottles and a deck of playing cards. Despite no one in sight, the voices still rose from below.
That made no sense. They were there. They had to be. Brent searched frantically, but he could find no humans. How could there be conversations?
And then Brent saw it. He knew they had tricked him. A cell phone weighted down the cards. The sneaky devils had used it as a recorder and played their voices as a decoy, luring Brent and his squad to this exposed position.
That deception meant they were near. Watching. Waiting. Preparing to attack.
Brent opened his mouth to order a retreat, but it was too late. The first projectile hit Timmy square in the back, exploding right between the shoulder blades. His eyes widened in shock as the sickening liquid splattered Brent’s face.
Panicked, Brent scanned the forest for their enemy as the bombs rained down around them. A few hit the ground harmlessly, throwing up muddy debris. Most, though, connected with their targets, slamming into their bodies. One caught Brent in his thigh, the very spot stabbed just moments earlier by a tree root. He rolled over onto his back in defense. Looking up, he saw movement in the tree branches over their heads.
There they sat. Grinning. Laughing. Launching their grenades. He raised his weapon to defend himself, but a projectile slammed into his chest. He lost his grip as the gun clattered to the ground beside him.
Defenseless, he watched in horror as Noah, balanced on a thick tree branch directly above him, reached into his backpack and extracted a heinous tool. With a maniacal grin, he flipped open the lid and aimed. At such a close range, he couldn’t miss. He nailed Brent in the center of the chest.
In disbelief, Brent touched the point of impact and raised his hand. A tacky red substance covered his fingers. Shocked, he peered into the trees and asked, “Is that mom’s ketchup?”
Brent’s little brother shrieked with laughter and let the empty plastic bottle fall to the ground. Noah reached into the crevice of the branches and extracted a pair of waiting water balloons. The other five boys in the trees rearmed themselves in the same way.
Brent eyed the Super Soaker 6000 laying on the ground beside him, leaking its precious liquid. He knew he would never grab it in time. Even if he succeeded, the half-empty tank wouldn’t last long enough to escape.
Lying on his back, muddy, defeated, and covered in a thick layer of ketchup, Brent knew he deserved this moment. It had all been his idea to start a water gun battle against his little brother and pals as soon as school ended for the summer. It had seemed so fun at the time, but Noah had outsmarted him.
He glanced first at Derek, then Timmy, and saw the resignation on their faces. It was time to surrender as honorably as possible. To accept the loss. To avoid a soaking. He had only one chance. “Good job, Noah. You guys win. It’s over.”
Noah’s eyes twinkled. “Oh, it ain’t over, Big Bro, ’til I say so.”
The balloons flew.
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Until Next Monday
Enjoy these waning days of summer. The cool, crisp nights of fall are just around the corner.
If you have questions or thoughts, drop them in the comments below.
Have a terrific week. See you next Monday.
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