Well, here we are at the beginning of our story. Okay, so not at the beginning. Well, yeah, sort of at the beginning. More accurately, we are at the beginning of the story, just not the beginning of what has been told to you. Wait, no. Let me start again.
Welcome to the beginning of our adventure (even though we have already started). This may be Chapter 3 in the four-part series, but this chapter is how it all began. Without it, the other two may not have happened at all. So, this is the beginning (as was mentioned in the first story) and must be told before the final chapter, since the fourth chapter can’t happen without this chapter. And it only does happen because I need to divide this story into two chapters because so much takes place that it has to be divided. So, really chapters 3 & 4 are actually one story, I just broke it into two sections. That’s why this is a four-part story and not a 3 part story.
Quick note: This story is a favorite. Friends, and their children, request the telling (and retelling) of this tale over and over. It has been developed in every way, hand and facial gestures, voice inflections, all sorts of things have been put in to make this story to be ‘The Best’ one Erich and I tell. I have made this story 10 minutes, or even up to 2 hours long in the telling. My point is this. I am used to ‘telling’ this tale, not writing it. So please forgive any issues due to this story being written down for the first time.
And so, on with the story…
The Cast: Erich (the Green Ninja), Myself (the ‘Real’ Ninja), The Snake (dangerous—and the ‘Real’-er Ninja).
Just down the street from my house (like 500 meters) were the Sanpete County Fair Grounds. Every year, at the same time the carnival came to town (the dates used to be painted on the fence and so whatever day of the week it started, it started, and then ended 7 days later). Rides, unique gifts, and all the strange/unusual things that come with a carnival—including Carnys.
To my North was the Fair Grounds, directly to my South (right next door) was the Manti Motel. This was where the Carnys would stay. It made sense, it was right near the Fair Grounds and this way they could walk to work. As a result, the Carnys would walk past my house, repeatedly throughout the day. They were different than all the other people in town. The Carnys were tattooed, strange hair (shaved, colored, etcetera), piercings (not just in their ears, or more than one in their ear or ears). They would smoke their cigarettes and drink their coffee (or other liquids in their coffee mugs).
Understand I’m not judging, Carnys were just very different than most folks in town (at least back then, now there are more ‘Carny-like’ people in town, which is fine). My point(s) was/were this/these: One the Carnys were different but nice. Once, while I sat on my porch, a small group of Carnys walked past, one of them threw a cigarette butt on my lawn. Another member of the group looked at me, apologized, then berated the first and demanded he pick it up. Then told the first to be more considerate of the locals and their property. After that, whenever they would walk past, we would wave to each other. Nice folks those Carnys.
Another point is that it’s important to understand that small towns flip-out when new things happen—even though the carnival happened the same dates every year (it was painted on the fence, after all). I’m referring to rumors and such that outsiders bring with them (like something smuggled into town in their luggage or something). And with every year, the Carnys would bring in rumors as well (although they didn’t know it). People (and when I say ‘people’ I mean ‘the children’) would talk about what kinds of rides would be at the fair, what type of events would be going on, and that sort of thing. This year was no different. Well, the starting of the rumors wasn’t different, but the topic was very different. This year the topic was about an animal. A long animal. A long, scaly animal. A long, scaly, legless (slithery) animal. Yeah, a snake.
What kind of snake it was and why there were rumors about it varied. But the main themes that ran between them all were these: The snake had been a pet of one of the Carnys. The snake had escaped. The snake was large (usually a python or such). And the most important of the rumors added in was that of a reward! It was this last one that gained the attention of Erich and myself, grasped it with all it had, and then strangled out all other thoughts from our minds. We wanted to be the heroes and capture the snake. We also wanted to get some reward money.
I even had proof of the realities of the situation. Once, whilst sitting on my porch (I believe I already mentioned I did this), I overheard some Carnys talking about the snake situation. So, it must be real (unless they were just talking about the rumors about them, out loud… Nah).
So, with all that in mind, Erich and I developed a plan to
sneak-out investigate, in the night to find that slickery-serpent and return it to the owner. Our plan was simple: Stay over at someone’s house. Sneak-out Investigate/gather clues. Capture the python. Return it to its owner. Get the reward. Simple. Well, except that we didn’t know where to start… Criminals! We needed to listen in on the rumors from the criminal underground. That would allow us to find this lot’s (maybe stolen) pet. Yes, this plan was perfect. Flawless. What could possibly go wrong? I had to ask.
Friday night was the night! I would stay over at Erich’s house—as his mother was not as particular about her children sneaking out (I would find out). I would bring my ninja attire (my brother had gifted me a complete ninja wardrobe—well, it was a hand-me-down) and Erich would find something dark to wear. This way we could melt into the shadows and become one with the night. When you’re 14 this is the way the world works. Simple. Black & white. Day & night. And it was the ‘black’ and ‘night’ that we would be needing the most.
Establishing ourselves as ‘Masters of the Night’ was important if we were to officially become superheroes. Since I had the ninja gear, it was up to Erich to find some manner of dark garb. And he did. A blue tee-shirt and a pair of dark-green corduroy pants. I will never forget those slacks for two reasons: 1) This was the 1980’s and those were dark-green corduroy! and 2) What would happen to them later.
After encasing ourselves in the fabric of stealth, we prepared to escape the confines of Erich’s domain. We opened his bedroom door and scanned the area: No one was about. Everyone was gathered in the front room watching television (probably something with Elvis in it). We approached the stairs leading to the first floor. We needed to move secretively down those stairs, slink past the family, then out the front door (it had to be the front door because in order to get out the back door we would have to walk in front of everybody). With the front door, we just had to sneak past the family. Done.
In our attempts to creep stealthily down the stairs our footfalls fell onto each and every creaky board (Erich didn’t have a need to memorize the ‘bad’ spots on his stairs like I did—I was about to learn why). Once we were at the bottom of the stairs, we began moving into the front room, about to attempt our shadow melding technique in an attempt to escape—or so I thought. Erich was about to show me that he had other plans.
“Mom, we’re headed out.”
His mom didn’t move from her place on the sofa, she just turned her head, looked us over, and said, “O.K. Don’t get into trouble.”
And with that, we just walked out the front door. Erich explained that his mother didn’t mind us going out, as long as we didn’t get in trouble. Thanks, man. I figured that part out. Although, I was still very surprised by the parental support to wander the night. His mother has always been very trusting of her children—they earned it. She’s pretty awesome that way (I think I’m her favorite child—maybe because I’m not hers).
Once outside, both of us walked through Erich’s back yard and made our way to this old two-story barn. This was where we kept one of our best secrets. On the side of the barn that bordered the neighbor’s lot, we had loosed a board, removed the four nails holding it to the frame and replaced one with a loose screw (yes, we had a screw loose—ha, ha). All we had to do was pull the board out and swing it off to the side (just like a super-secret-spy-door). After we passed through the opening, we just put the board back (just like a super-secret-spy-door). Now in the neighbor’s yard, we slithered through the grass in a military-style low-crawl. This was an extra-precautionary measure because the owner of the property was the Sheriff and owner of the mortuary—and mortician. He could arrest us, shoot us, prepare us for burial, or bury us (yes, I wrote ‘or’ not ‘and’).
We made it this far. And so far, so good. We were looking to get closer to a particular tree that would provide us ample shade (almost light canceling shade—more like an actual physical barrier that light was immune to). Near the corner of a lawn, across the street from the city park, was a giant pine tree. This tree had long branches that were thick with needles and darkness. The streetlight on the corner only allowed light near, or around, the tree, but not underneath. It was here that we could sit, watch, and listen to potential criminal activities that ran amok within the seedy underworld that come out at night to live and grow within our fair city (park). (really all that took place at night were teenagers playing night-games, parking, and the occasional smoker)
The two of us bolted across the street to attempt to use the tree and its veil of darkness as a shield, and it worked (but nobody was looking anyway). Once under the cover of darkness, we waited… and waited… and waited… There was no activity (near us). All the people were at the other end of the park (all three of them). Then they left. Maybe. It was hard to see what they were doing so far away. So, we moved closer to the edge of the shade.
“What is that?” Erich began to move his feet and legs about. As he tried to get whatever it was off of him. As we both looked, we caught the odd glimmer of light reflecting off the scaley body of a snake that was beginning to wrap itself around Erich. No big deal. WAIT! A SNAKE?!? Not just any snake. THE SNAKE!!!
It would seem that the very quarry that we sought after, sought us first. Crud! Erich began to kick and thrash about (which was probably the right thing to do). I tried to grab and pull at the body of the snake. It was hard to tell what type of snake it was (since it was so dark under the tree). However, the snake was more agile than expected. It avoided my grasp almost at every attempt to grab it. And when I did get it in my clutches, it would quickly wriggle free.
“It’s almost at my waist!” Erich was beginning to panic (fair). Despite all my best efforts, I could not find the head of the beast that was doing it’s best to kill my friend. I grabbed at sticks and tried to beat the beast away. This animal was beyond any normal serpent. It must have been born of something otherworldly. The scaly hide was tough and unyielding. I found small rocks and wanted to hurl them, but after the first one missed and hit Erich in the… Well, it hit Erich. So, I went back to trying to find the head.
This mighty python was going to kill Erich, and I was unable to render any help at all. I was powerless to save him. Amongst all this terror, we still had one thought shared amongst us: Keep this prize for ourselves. Despite all our best efforts to keep Erich alive, we did need to save the snake for the reward money. But time was running out—as well as space on Erich’s body for the snake to cover, and our options. It seemed that no matter what Erich or I did, he was not going to make it. No matter how he kicked and struggled Erich was still going to die. Then it happened. Erich uttered the words I will never forget…
“I’ve been bit!”
To be continued…
Banner photo, used with permission, by Rick Smith.