Chapter Three - Title Unknown
Riley is busy searching, scouring the ground for Taelyn’s newly won Steelie and Taelyn’s thankful he doesn’t notice the red, embarrassed flush gradually fading from her face and neck as she’s walking toward him. Riley’s determined to find her newly won Steelie. Mimicking him, she looks down, her head swiveling and swinging from side to side. Moments later she hears Riley shouting.
“I FOUND it Taelyn! I found it!”
Riley’s eyebrows seem to be attached to invisible threads from the sky, pulling them upward, his eyes as big as teacup saucers. He victoriously holds the Steelie up in the air, the right side of it reticently, but dully shining.
“No WAY Riley!” Taelyn shouts enthusiastically, and she begins running toward him.
Grinning, Riley lowers his arm and watches Taelyn. As she gets closer he tosses the Steelie toward her, the orb spinning and spiraling through the air. She catches the Steelie with one hand and stops in front of Riley, smiling.
“That was an AWESOME shot!” Riley says, beaming at her.
“I got lucky is all,” Taelyn replies, pushing her glasses up on her nose self-consciously while ducking her head and looking away.
“Come on! Race ya to the Fort!” Riley exclaims, breaking into a headlong run toward the bike racks. In the distance, Eddie jumps up from his sitting position and begins running back and forth, his eyes trained on Riley and Taelyn, his mouth is opening as a wide smile begins growing on his face.
“Hey Eddie!” Riley exclaims loudly as he reaches his battered bike. They exchange friendly nudges as Riley bends down to insert his bike lock key into the lock holding his bike to the rack, then quickly jams the chain wrapped in malleable light blue plastic into his faded army green canvas backpack and hurriedly slings one strap over his shoulder.
“I’m gonna get SERIOUS airtime today Eddie! Just you wait and see!” Riley says. Eddie is nodding encouragingly at Riley, and they exchange a knowing smile with one another. He quickly straddles his bike and begins pedaling furiously, Eddie on his tail.
“Hey! Wait UP Riley! You didn’t wait for the count - it isn’t fair if you don’t WAIT FOR THE COUNT!” Taelyn yells after Riley, as she impatiently fights with her bike lock, finally unlocks her bike and clumsily extracts it from the bike racks, looking up intermittently at how far Riley is getting away. Eddie is easily keeping pace with Riley even though he’s running.
“It doesn’t COUNT Riley! Wait UP!” she begins yelling repeatedly, as she begins frantically pumping the pedals of her scratched, secondhand, green no name bike covered in stickers.
And for eight blocks her calls go ignored as she rides as fast as she can to catch up to Riley and Eddie, until she breathlessly pulls into the vacant, abandoned lot; their favourite place. The place where their Fort is, or as they sometimes call it, “Operations Control”.
Riley has passed the lot and is turning around on the almost unused road a hundred feet away. He stops momentarily to catch his breath. Then he stands on his pedals, his legs straight, his torso leaning over his handle bars, and begins pedaling, his legs pummeling the pedals like pistons. He’s wearing his lucky navy t-shirt, the “King of Cool” white lettering of the slogan almost unreadable. His mouth is a horizontal line and his eyebrows are knitted together tightly in concentration. Eddie is loping behind, his stides long and his mouth open and panting.
Taelyn is straddling her bike, still catching her breath. She smiles and then looks back at their Fort, a small, old wooden shack sitting incongruously at the back of a vacant lot, nestled between a wild, partially excavated field on the left, (a project on hold for an indeterminate amount of time), and a very old, small, one story house. Her expression turns quizzical momentarily. Something seems different, or… feels different. She isn’t sure what though. Her eyes glance over the lot looking for clues… She absently pushes her glasses up on her nose.
The roof of their Fort is tilted precariously, threatening to collapse. Their Fort, at one time, was probably a garden shed that sat behind the house that used to sit on this lot, but has since been demolished. Most the debris had been hauled away at the time of demolition, but some of it had been left and was strewn about randomly and carelessly.
Mounds of dirt sprout up periodically over the lot, surrounded by tall thickets of grass and a bric-a-brac of items lay between the mounds. A snaked coil of old ropey twine, a men’s faded black rubber boot and an empty yellow plastic pale with a large crack down the side. Almost in the middle of the lot, an old, light green, porcelain bathroom sink, tilted at ninety degrees, juts up from a mound of dirt, and is surrounded by friendly, bright yellow dandelion faces. In the far corner a discarded, rusted shopping cart lays languorously on its side.
To the right of the lot sits an untended old house surrounded by a fence that leans drunkenly over the empty lot, it’s faded and chipped white paint begging forgiveness. Two big oak trees recline majestically between the old house, their boughs hanging conspiratorially over the fence. A bee buzzes by blazing its haphazard trail through the air.
Everything looks the same and nothing looks out of place, but Taelyn can’t shake the feeling that something’s different… Her thoughts are interrupted.
“Oh NO! His jet fuel just ran out! He comes in for an emergency landing! WILL… HE… MAKE… IT?! Riley yells.
A ramp, Riley’s bike jump ramp, sits midway down the lot on the side near the trees. They constructed it from stuff lying around the lot and finally decided what worked best was an old wooden door propped up by an old car tire and a scratched up red plastic carton. Riley’s bike tires have ensured that patches of grass and weeds have been worn away on the path leading up to the ramp from the sidewalk.
Taelyn watches as Riley pedals mightily up to, over top of the ramp, and then flies off of it, his legs suddenly still in midair… While mid-air he turns his front wheel, throws back his head and with his eyes closed shouts,
“HEEEEE…”, and moments later as his front bike wheel touches the ground again he stands on his brakes, his bike skidding and swerving and finally stopping sideways…
“LANDS!!!” Riley holds up his arms to the invisible but deafening cheer of the crowd, his expression exultant and his grin gregarious. Then he looks down at the stop watch he used electrical tape to tape onto his left bike handle.
“Five point four seconds!! That one was AWESOME!” he exclaims to no one in particular.
He looks back at Taelyn and drops his bike. Taelyn’s fists are resting on her hips as she’s straddling her bike.
Laughing, Riley yells, “Beat ya! WhooooWhoooooooooo!”
“You did not, you jumped the go – cheater!” Eddie is standing next to Taelyn and with an open, panting mouth, is nodding his head up and down in agreement.
Ignoring her Riley yells, “I’m gonna check to make sure the Fort hasn’t been invaded!”, and he takes off running towards the Fort.
Taelyn carefully lays her bike down on the ground and shrugs out of her backpack. Then she unzips it and feels around for it… ah, there it is! She pulls out her slingshot and pulls on the thick, soft rubber - warming it up.
“That’s two now Riley! I’ve got two Steelie’s to practice with!” she hollers toward the Fort.
Eddie trots over to investigate the large wild Saskatoon berry bush toward the front of the lot and starts eating the ripe purple berries within his reach, his mouth loudly sloshing as sweet crimson juice escapes and begins running down his chin. He loves Saskatoon berries.
Taelyn notices Eddie eating the Saskatoon berries and drops her slingshot.
“No Eddie!” she says.
Eddie stops chewing mid-chew, raising his eyebrows he looks over at Taelyn. Then he begins chewing faster while staring at her.
Taelyn digs around in her backpack and fishes out her uneaten half peanut butter sandwich from lunch. She and Riley get a sandwich and a piece of fruit for lunch every day, their food portioned out like pieces of gold.
“Riley! Where’s your sandwich?” she yells at the Fort.
Riley’s head pops up in the glass-less window, the only window of the Fort, and jumps out of the window, shrugging out of his backpack as he runs toward Taelyn. The front sole of his right sneaker is flipping and flapping, revealing a sock-less foot caked with dirt. He pulls his sandwich bag out of his backpack and gives it to Taelyn. There are two bites out of his half sandwich.
“He needs more than that,” she says reproachfully.
“I know, but I was hungry today.” Riley says.
Taelyn purses her lips and nods understandingly. She holds out one of the half sandwiches toward Eddie.
“Here Eddie...” she says.
Eddie ’s head jerks toward Taelyn and he eyes the half sandwich stretched toward him, and an instant later he’s running toward her full speed and stops abruptly in front her. Then he gently takes the half sandwich from her, bowing his head thankfully, and continues to watch her as he begins quickly chewing.
Suddenly Eddie’s long tongue snakes out of his mouth and draws an invisible horizontal letter “S’ in the air, then slips and slops back into his mouth again. Moments later his tongue does the same thing again. And again. This goes on for some minutes. At times Eddie’s head nods forward as he tries to swallow the sticky peanut butter.
Taelyn and Riley watch Eddie’s fascinating, seemingly never-ending trick to eating peanut butter quickly. When it looks like he’s mostly done chewing the first piece, Taelyn hands him Riley’s smaller sandwich piece. Eddie repeats his trick and eventually swallows the last of it, the corners of his mouth drawing up as he blinks at them.
“Sorry about that Eddie, we’ll try to bring you more tomorrow okay?” Eddie blinks and smiles as his tongue snakes out one last time to lick his lips appreciatively.
“Ok! You ready for target practice?” Taelyn asks, as she turns her head toward Riley.
“Roger that! Let me get my gear on!” he says as he takes of running toward the Fort.
Riley uses the door to the Fort this time. Inside, the Fort is about five feet by five feet, which, while this may seem small, actually holds an amazing array of items. Some are hanging from nails on the wooden board walls and some are strewn about seemingly recklessly.
Riley grabs an old, white, cracked hockey helmet hanging on the wall that they’ve modified; they’ve crazy glued one end of a hard, thin, green plastic stem about four inches long to the top and centre of the hockey helmet, and then crazy glued a two inch by two inch scrap of thin metal to the top of the stem. A bullseye has been drawn on the metal plate using Revlon ‘Ruby Red’ nail polish, the Target. The metal plate is positioned so the flat sides face the sides of the wearer of the helmet. Riley checks to make sure is the stem and the plate are secure.
Then he bends down and picks up two pieces of square, two foot by two foot light green stained foam lying on the dusty floor, some different lengths of fraying yellow nylon rope, and grabs a pair of clear, scratched goggles hanging on a nail on the wall. He stands still for a moment, thinking.
A scratched, old wooden stool sits under the glassless window in the late afternoon sun, and dust motes are swinging and swaying to a soundless tune.
He decides to check on their cache.
He drops the items he’s collected, walks to the far corner and moves a piece of plywood that looks as if it’s been discarded carelessly, but hidden underneath is a hole dug into the earth where they keep their cache. His eyes scan the cache; an old, small instant coffee tin with a plastic lid holds their savings, an array of cans of food (Pears, Peaches, Bacon and Beans, Spaghettios and Ravioli), two boxes of crackers, a can opener, two small spoons, a bag of red licorice (half eaten), three chocolate bars, five bandaids, a Swiss Army Knife, two lighters, a half used tube of crazy glue, four large bottles of water and two small blankets wrapped in plastic bags. Everything’s there. Nothing’s been disturbed. Riley nods his head. He pulls the piece of plywood back over the hole.
Then he gathers up the items he previously dropped and opens the door. Methodically, he lays two lengths of yellow rope on the ground horizontally, placing one of the two square pieces of light green foam over top of the rope, with the other large piece of foam positioned close to the first piece.
Standing with the foam behind him, he looks backward, bends down and falls backward, his back laying on top of one of the pieces of foam. Then he pulls the other piece of foam on top of his chest and grabs one of the lengths of yellow rope lying on each side of him and begins tying a knot over top of the green foam in front of his chest. He does the same with the second piece of rope, tying the knot around his waist.
Then he picks up the goggles and fixes them in place over his eyes, the black elastic puffing up his hair in the back. Then he puts the battered white hockey helmet on his head.
While Riley is collecting and putting on his gear, Taeyln takes out her two Steelie’s and places them near her slingshot. She puts her index finger in her mouth and licks it, then holds it into the air in front of her, gauging how strong the wind is and which way its’ blowing. She notices the leaves are hanging relatively motionless on the oak trees. The saliva on her finger is dissolving slowly. Good conditions for target practice.
Meanwhile, Eddie decides he’d like to eat some more Sasktoon berries and is loping toward bush, but something sidetracks him. A large, bright orange and black butterfly, flitting and fluttering in the air in front of him.
Eddie’s eyes widen and he grins as he begins chasing after it. Taelyn watches as he chases the butterfly all around the lot, jumping over large rocks, up and down small hills, a rusted metal bed frame, and trips over the old discarded shopping cart lying on its side in the corner.
His eyes keep tracking the butterfly with his eyes, but the look of delight has been replaced with a frustrated, exasperated look. He gets up and continues chasing the butterfly, but then Eddie gets a crafty, determined look in his eye and stops suddenly. He takes a big breath and exhales.
Then he does something odd. He pretends to be looking at the clouds, the oak trees, the clouds in the sky, and with a bored look he absently begins scratching behind his ear. Taelyn walks over to the bush and pops a Saskatoon berry into her mouth and sucks on it while she continues watching Eddie, a bemused expression on her face.
The butterfly is fluttering teasingly close to Eddie. When it gets just a little closer… Eddie explodes! Jumping, swerving and twisting in mid-air he reaches for the butterfly! His jaws surround the butterfly momentarily, his teeth glinting and gleaming in the sun and he quickly snaps his jaws shut and… misses. He lets out a quick high pitched sound and returns to chasing it all across the lot.
Taelyn shakes her head laughing and looks for Riley.
“Hey Riley, you ready?” she yells.
Riley is just finishing making some minor alterations to his ramp. He’s walked his bike about fifteen feet in front of it and while letting his bike lean against him upright, has been checking his foam armour is secure, his helmet is secure and the metal target is affixed correctly. He pulls his googles down in front of his eyes.
“Roger that!” Rile says as he brings his arm up with his fist closed and his thumb pointing straight up.
“Ok, ON MY COUNT!” Taelyn shouts.
Riley hurriedly straddles his bike and looks expectantly at Taelyn.
Taelyn picks up her slingshot, places one of her Steelies in the pocket and while firmly holding the handle she pulls back the pocket holding her Steelie, the rubber stretching and straining.
“On your mark… get set… GO!” Taelyn screams.
Riley begins pedaling rapidly, his torso and head leaning forward and his legs pumping the pedals furiously as he gains speed, making a straight line for the bike ramp.
Taelyn closes one eye, focusing on the target painted on the metal plate moving on top of Riley’s hockey helmet, and while pulling back on the pocket and stretching the rubber band impossibly more, she moves her arms horizontally, keeping track of the target.
A stream of dust trails behind Riley’s bike as he gathers momentum, going faster and faster. He comes to the ramp and glides off of it. While in mid-air he waits expectantly for the “ting” sound.
Meanwhile, seconds before, Taelyn releases the pocket holding the Steelie and the pocket and the rubber band shoot forward explosively, catapulting the Steelie through the air. The dull, shiny orb flies quickly towards the target on top of Riley’s head and connects with the third and final circle from the centre, and ricochets off it!
“Yah!” Taelyn yells as Riley lands and looks down at his stopwatch.
“Three point two seconds Taelyn! That’s almost at my record! Good shot!”
Taelyn smiles and does a fist pump in the air, and Riley mimics her.
“Hey Eddie, did you see where it went?” Taelyn asks as she looks around for Eddie. Eddie’s found his way back to the Saskatoon berry bush and looks toward her guiltily as the berry juice drops from his chin.
“Are you kidding me? That’s your only job! Well, come on and help us look for it!” Taelyn exasperatedly yells at him.
(photo credits to http://www.zoobooks.com/orange-black-butterflies/