Deer in the Headlights

The Cast: Jacob (the deer), Myself (pack member), The Pack (Aaron, Curt, Dallas, Erich, & other friends and helpers).

I never thought of myself as a prankster, but the more of these stories I have written, the more I realized that I am. And always have been, it seems. That being said, this time it may not have been me. Directly.

My parents have never thrown a New Years Party (to the best of my recollection). But one year when I was about 14 years old, they decided to. In preparation for the event, they began to collect party supplies. One of the best supplies collected were the drinks. Six cases of Martinelli’s Gold Medal Sparkling Apple Cider—my family doesn’t drink alcohol, and that stuff is golden delicious. At any rate, as the December 31st drew nearer, the party fell apart (for reasons I don’t know). The end result was, six cases of Martinelli’s Gold Medal Sparkling Apple Cider, left all alone alone. In need of consumption. My sister and I took care of that.

Over the next month, the two of us—unbeknownst to the other—would grab a bottle (I would also grab a straw, because it was fun) and just casually chug a bottle. I only know this because one time I was sneaking a bottle upstairs to my room and as I passed my sister she hide something behind her back, and the following exchange went something like this, “Oh! You scared me.” “What have you got?” “What have you got?” “Nothing.” “Same here.” “Wait, is that one of the Martinelli’s?” “Is that what you have?” “Yes.” “Yeah.” “So that’s where all the other bottles were going.” “Yup.” “Nice.” “I won’t tell if you won’t.” “Deal.”

It may not seem like a big deal to most of you. But in my house it would have been, for reasons that are unrelated to this story and are too complicated to get into at this time. So, moving forward… I told you that story so that I could tell you this one, and the reasons for all the bottles of Martinelli’s Gold Medal Sparkling Cider would make sense—also, it’s just one of my favorite little moments between my sister and myself.

The new year was approaching, and with it: Boredom. At age 14, there isn’t much to do on New Year’s Eve in a small town.

Every year our little town provided a dance for the youth, in the tennis courts, outside, next to the Army Reserve Armory. It was always crowded, loud music, and lots of flashing lights. And when you live in an area where farming is really all there is, something as simple as a dance is a supreme respite for the youth. I never did enjoy it. It was the crowd. Dancing is fine, but all that noise and the crowd. Not my cup of tea.

So, some of us needed another form of activity. And simple places get simple entertainment. The old classic: Ring ‘n’ Run.

The Ring ‘n’ Run is where you sneak up to someone’s house, ring the doorbell and then run away—without a trace—before the owner of the house can answer the door. In the winter—with all the snow on the ground—it’s even harder to pull this off successfully. Which made it all the more fun. There was our fun: The Ring ‘n’ Run.

Like I have stated before, now that I am on the other side of things I now better appreciate the irritation of the older folks when we teens pulled stupid pranks. However, in our defense, when we did the RIng ‘n’ Run on New Years Eve, we only did it to homes whose residents were awake and had activity. We weren’t about to disrupt those who wanted to sleep—that’s just rude. So, we would find a home bustling with party goers and/or family, select a member of our group to do the deed, the rest chose our directions of escape, clarify our rendezvous point, and then execute. We would wait, muscles coiled like springs, eyes wide open—alert for any sign of getting caught, each one of us ready to bolt… The selected member would creep forward (or sometimes run depending on who it was—some were more reckless than others), ring the bell, and then we would all dash away into the dark of the night.

Sometimes, the selected would just appear to ring the bell, and then run away, leaving the rest of us behind trying to figure out just what actually took place. Did the bell really ring? Was it just too quiet? Did that kid just mess with us? Do we need to stand here, or run? These are the questions that would drift through our consciousness. Ultimately, most of the time, we would all run away with the prankster laughing at the nervous runners. Once in a great while, someone from the pack would attempt to rectify the failure of the Ring ‘n’ Run situation and move toward the door to ring the bell a ‘second time’. It was always fantastic to witness the second ‘ringer’ get right up to the door, finger poised to press the doorbell, only to find the door opening with the home’s resident looking all confused at the youth just standing there in an awkward I’m-trying-to-ring-the-doorbell-and-run-away-without-getting-caught stance.

That was our game. Simple, but fun. And we didn’t hurt anyone, so we did this wild animal pack-like activity every year. Now, when I say ‘we’ I am referring to whomever of our friend’s group who happened to come along. The group would change size throughout the night as members would head home (for various reasons: food, potty, mom or dad yelling, or whatever), and somehow we always knew where to find the pack, and what the pack’s activities were. We had no set leader, we operated on impulse, stupidity, and adrenaline.

So, I gave that history so I can finally tell you the real story: Deer in the Headlights.

During the same year that my parents had the failed New Years Eve Party, our little pack gained a new member, Aaron’s younger brother, Jacob. He was young and unfamiliar with our targets—and how to choose them.

Like a real pack chooses its target for reasons not always clear, we too did the same. There were almost always the same houses holding the same parties. These were our typical targets, as well as the occasional targets of opportunity. We were good at what we did, we could sniff out potential doorbells to ring, like a wolf could sniff out the feebleness of a particular deer within its’ herd. And like a pack, we would roam about the night, looking for fun, telling stupid stories, jokes, grabbing hot snacks from pack members homes—as we would pass them by. This particular year, I had grabbed about four (or maybe 5 or 6) bottles of Marntielli’s Gold Medal Sparkling Cider (remember, my parents had bought several cases).

So at this point in the night—anywhere between 11:00 PM and midnight, we were like a roving pack of wolves prowling for its prey, pumped full of stupidity, adrenaline, and Marntielli’s Gold Medal Sparkling Cider—sugar rush! Bottles would be passed around, as well as hot food stuffs, laughter, and comradery. Good times. And this particular year, we had a new initiate with us: Jacob.

Jacob was excited for his first Ring ‘n’ Run target. An appropriate target was selected for him. A special target. A very special target. The pack moved forward. We wandered in and out of the shadowy, snow-covered street. We all looked forward to Jacob’s first strike.

As we approached, we briefed Jacob about the Ring ‘n’ Run protocols. How he needed to size up his target. How he should approach this particular home. How he should have his escape route chosen beforehand. Where our rendezvous location would be. We covered all the details—almost all the details. You would think that a simple game wouldn’t be so complicated, and yet anything worth doing… Should be done well.

The house that was chosen, was chosen for a reason. A very specific reason. A reason that was unbeknownst to Jacob. We chose this house because the end result was going to be hilarious. For the pack—it always was.

I am pretty sure this is the house. It looks different now—time and memory have changed it.

As the pack dispersed in wide range about the empty road, in preparation for flight, Jacob approached his target. The door was right next to the front room window. This allowed members of the pack to monitor movement within the home, but allowed members of the home to react quickly to a doorbell ring. And with a New Years party taking place, we could witness almost all the party-goers movements from the silhouettes on the curtains. Jacob, stealthily moved in for the kill. Then, right on que, only a few steps away from the front doors steps, the porch light activated and Jacob, right there, in the cold, froze. The roles were reversed. The deer had become the wolf. And the wolf had become the deer—the proverbial deer caught in the headlights.

Jacob ran towards the door!

Jacob had run toward the door. You don’t run towards the door! But he had. So when that light came on, Jacob stopped, or at least tried to. He slid to a halt. His legs bent and spread apart in an attempt to stabilize himself, his arms were outstretched, fingers spread wide, all the while he continued to stare straight ahead at the door—waiting for it to open. Even though we were all only seeing the back of Jacob, we all recognized the look on his face. We had all made that same face when we had each been initiated into the pack. His eyes were wide with the shock of being caught. His mouth was open wide, jaw on the ground. He didn’t know what to do, or where to go.

Quickly, Jacob snapped out of it. Without moving his body, Jacob glanced first to the left, then to the right, back to the left, then again to the right (all in quick, cartoon-like, jerky movements), trying to figure out if someone was going to give him direction. Eventually someone did, “Jacob! Run you idiot!”

At our rendezvous point, we all had a good laugh. We would take turns standing in Jacob’s pose and mocking his ‘failure’. “Whua?!? What do I do? Where do I go.” Followed by laughter by almost all—Jacob wasn’t laughing. “I don’t see what’s so funny. I almost got caught.” So, we explained that his target had motion-sensor lights. There was no way he was ever going to get close. Jacob had thought someone had caught him. Once he understood that we had all gone through this, and he had no chance of making it, he laughed too. Nobody ever made it.

Once, His older brother Aaron almost made it. Aaron moved slowly, almost imperceptibly forward, and made it past the standard activation point. The pack was shocked, and suddenly we all wanted him to make it. To be the first kid ever able to ring the bell. Then, right before he had made it three feet from the door, another pack member (impatient from the cold and wait) snuck-up from behind, and activated the light on him. Oh, Aaron was furious. That little story however, made everything alright with Jacob. And so, our pack’s activities continued. Not just that night, but for many New Year’s nights to come.

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