Childhood Lost 10

The night was dark and cool with only the faintest hint of a breeze. Without an itinerary, it was difficult to determine just which way to go, so I sat on the wooded hill overlooking the house and puffed thoughtfully on a Camel. A pair of headlights appeared in the distance down the long gravel road. Mom was home.

Years later, one of my brothers told me that Bruce's tale to her had been, I'd "gone berserk for no apparent reason and just started beating on him." Mom immediately called the county sheriff. Within forty-five minutes they came roaring down the road as if the hounds of hell were chasing them. After they'd dismounted and filed inside, I crept to within twenty-five feet of their car.

After conferring with Mom and Bruce, the cops emerged from the house and called for additional units. Two more pair of headlights soon barreled down the road, crunched to a halt in the freshly oiled gravel and four more cops piled out. I listened as the deputy in charge described me to his fellow defenders of the law and public safety. I was a vicious, possibly insane, eleven year old male, four feet eleven inches tall with green eyes and short brown hair. I'd just assaulted my older brother for no apparent reason and Lord knows what I'd do next.

"Now, we really stand no chance of catching this kid at night. His mother says he knows the land for miles around, but I'm betting he's close by. He's only eleven and he can't have gone far. We'll split up and walk the ten acres of this property calling his name, in a friendly manner. Something along the lines of, 'Dale, we know you're out there and you're scared. We're here to help. Just give yourself up and we'll help you work things out.'"

"What happens to him if we catch him?" one of the deputies asked.

"He's going straight to Remann Hall," came the reply, "and if the little prick gives us any trouble he'll wish he'd never been born."

Any thoughts I might have had about seeking an impartial audience with representatives of the law were quickly supplanted by a keen desire to reach puberty. I wasn't about to surrender to those gorillas. I cut east through the woods on familiar paths, thinking as I went that "The last time I walked this trail, I still had a home," and "Just yesterday I was free."

I traveled about five miles before dawn, meandering, heading nowhere in particular. The only real comfort lay in pushing on, it was the one element in life at the moment I had any control over. I holed up in rustic barn as a clear, cold dawn broke over Mt. Rainier and the Cascades forty miles to the east; tunneling into last year's hay, I slept fitfully.

The world looks altogether different to an eleven year old fugitive from justice than it does to the average child. I awoke in the hot afternoon, suffocating in a cold grey blanket of despair, no longer invulnerable, just depressed and alone. I had, it seemed, two choices: live in hay barns forever or turn myself in. I lit up a Camel sucking the fragrant smoke deep, blew a few smoke rings, and tried to think rationally. Thirst was the major problem. Up to a point, cigarettes dull hunger pangs, but they only intensify sensations of dehydration. After a furtive exploration, I located a stand pipe about a hundred yards from the barn, wound about with vagrant blackberry vines. The water was rusty, brown, and about the tastiest I'd ever drunk.

Green and pleasant lands stretched away in all directions. The Northwest of my youth was still heavily timbered. Rural homes and small farms dotted a countryside which had, for the most part, remained unchanged since the 1930's. For the next several days, I wandered aimlessly about this country, sleeping in barns or other outbuilding and dodging any contact with humans. I avoided roads except at night, when I could see a car's head lights long before the occupants could see me. I dove into ditches and hid behind trees when ever a vehicle approached. More than once it was a sheriff's car.

I ate what I could steal or forage, drank from outside faucets, sometimes creeks, and temporarily forsook my long allegiance to Camels, switching brands to Lucky Strikes, after discovering an unguarded carton on the front seat of an unattended pickup. They weren't humps, but after a few days I scarcely noticed the difference.

On day five, I found an aging .22 caliber single shot rifle resting on rusty spikes above the rough hewn doorway of a barn. A 500 round brick of Remington Long Rifle ammunition was tucked away on a the ledge below. I snatched up both without a qualm, figuring that I needed them far more than their original owner. Although I didn't know how to shoot or hunt, this seemed as good a time as any to learn. I headed for Clover Creek, a small cold stream which flowed out of higher hills ten miles or so to the east and down through semi wild tracts of land where deer and bear still roamed.

Hunting, as far as I knew, was a simple enough undertaking. One walked through the forest until an animal was sighted, pointed a gun at it while it obligingly stood there, and pulled the trigger. I walked all day, and all the next, and never saw a deer.

They'd been there before, that much I knew because slightly muddied paths along the creek were rife with their tracks and droppings. As the sun set on the second day, exasperation set in and I shouted at the top of my lungs to no one in particular "Where are you f__kers, anyway?" About forty yards away a doe and her fawn, which blended in so well against a backdrop of tall meadow grass and trees that they had been, to me, all but invisible, raced away across the clearing and disappeared into the woods beyond. I would never have seen them if they hadn't moved, and as it was it didn't matter, I never had a chance to shoot.

I tramped the woods for two weeks feeling, as a rule, ever more lost and alone. Finally I just said the hell with it, I was lonely, tired and running out of smokes. I headed home. Life on the run had lost much of its mystique. I cut through the pasture at twilight and stashed the .22 under some loose boards in our hay barn along with the shells. Although I couldn't bring it home, I didn't want to take it back.

Expecting the worst, I stepped into the house prepared to light out if the need arose but mother, upon seeing me, merely asked if was all right and if I'd had dinner yet. I could've done without the split pea soup, but the brown sugar Kool Aid was of surpassing vintage. For reasons still unknown, it was as if the past few weeks hadn't happened.

Not being one to keep track of the futile hours and days allotted to useless human existence, it hadn't occurred to me to check the stats, otherwise I would have known it was Friday, and stayed out

another day. As it was, on the day following my return to civilization, I took my place in the congregation of the called and chosen and found to my shock that in my absence I had become a hero...of sorts.

My peers gathered around me, eager to hear grim tales of battle and survival in the inhospitable wilds and, while many were dragged away by future saints who glowered at me like I was the devil incarnate, a few remained to hear hair raising (and modestly remodeled) recitations of my many and varied adventures.

The sermon that day rolled roughshod, as usual, over worldly religion, history, science and everything else Herbert hadn't personally authored, and would have been totally committed to memory's waste basket had it not been for a cryptic, after services, announcement that next Sabbath, great news from headquarters would be announced. The faithful were enjoined to be there.


Chapter 9

 

Chapter 11

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