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Columns / Short Stories
Shep was always writing. . .

August 1971


The Mole People Battle The Forces of Darkness

Leathercraft! There are few among us who have not felt the pain of a needle piercing a thumb, the inexpressible boredom of toiling over a wampum belt or a lumpy wallet bearing the likeness of Roy Acuff done in colored Indian beads. For the next couple of hours, we fumbled with pieces of leather, hacking anc! chopping away. A tall, reedy counselor who called himself Cliffie moved among us in his tight pants and furry shoes, clucking sweetly. "Yes, boys, we certainly love to make things, don't we? My, just think how pleased your mommies and daddies are going to be with the wonderful leatherwork you'll bring them from camp. Made by your very own little hands!" I decided on a spectacular creation featuring the silhouette of The End of the Trail, which was a picture of an Indian on a horse looking down sadly at the sunset. I had admired it on a calendar my old man had gotten from the Shell station. I figured I would do it with beads and copper rivets. "That's very nice," said Cliffie, peering over my shoulder. I could smell a faint whiff of perfume. "What is it?" I told him. "My, my, your mother will love that," he commented in a somewhat stunned voice, maybe because it was more than four feet square. That was the only way I could figure out how to get all those beads and rivets into the picture. "Well, keep up the good work." He patted me affectionately on the behind and strolled off. Kissel was bent over a shoulder holster with fringe for his father's bourbon bottle, and Flick was deeply involved in a grotesque catcher's mitt that already looked like a dead octopus. We toiled away happily until Jake, the muscular Beaver, barged in. "What the hell is that silly thing?" he sneered, poking at Kissel's creation. Kissel said nothing, his face crimson. We sensed trouble. "Jee-zus, is that supposed to be an Indian?" Jake snarled at my laboriously penciled outline. "Looks like a scarecrow takin' a crap on some kind of a goat." He cackled at his own rotten humor. I peered down at my drawing. He was right. It did look like a scarecrow taking a crap on a goat. "Oh, yeah?" I answered, with my famous slashing wit. Jake paid no attention. He turned his attention to Flick. "Hey, kid!" Flick looked up from his monstrosity. "Wait'll Cliffie boy sees yer makin' a jockstrap for your pet elephant." The fat Chipmunk, who was silently working away on some obscure object at the other end of our table, glanced up, his tiny eyes expressionless behind his thick glasses. "Who ya lookin' at, Fatso?" Jake glared at him. The fat Chipmunk sniffed quietly and returned to work. "Boy, Chipmunks are gettin' worse every year." Jake went back to his crowd of Beavers over in the corner. That afternoon we set off on a hike, led by Captain Crabtree wearing shorts and a baseball cap. "Now, boys, a hike is not just a walk. A woodsman is alert. He knows the meaning of every broken twig. He can identify every leaf in the forest. I want you to examine things and learn. Off we go now, follow me." At a rapid pace, the captain charged off into the woods. We follwed, grunting and scrambling. "Look around you, boys. Nature is kind," the captain sang out. We looked. Ten minutes later, an uproar broke out as a Chipmunk near the rear yipped frantically past us-pursued by 12,000,000 angry hornets. Chipmunks flew in all directions, yelling and screaming. The captain stood in the middle of the trail. "STAND STILL, BOYS. THEY WON'T STING IF YOU STAND STILL! THEY'RE MORE AFRAID OF YOU THAN YOU ARE OF THEM!" I burrowed deep into a thick growth of shiny green leaves that I wasn't to learn until my second nature lesson too late - were called Toxicodendron, commonly known as poison ivy. I caught a glimpse of a cloud of hornets settling on the captain, who stood like a statue. Foraging patrols of free-lance hornets ranged up and down the path, searching for scurrying Chipmunks. The captain suddenly bellowed hoarsely and took off in the direction of the camp. An angry wedge-shaped formation of hornets streamed after him. We didn't see the captain again until three days later, when he snuck in the back door of the mess hall. We didn't recognize him at first. Once again, the notorious Stand Still and They Won't Hurt You theory had failed. But the captain, a true nature lover, didn't give up on it until the following year, when he tried it on a bull grazing in a meadow. In those three days, meanwhile, the lines had been drawn clearly. Being a Chipmunk, we learned, consisted mostly of attending lectures, making wallets and fighting off Beavers, who could spot you a mile off wearing that damned Chipmunk cap. The only time you didn't have to wear your cap was when you were sleeping, which wasn't often - between being scared every night by the Thing in the Woods and having to get up at three A.M. and wait in line to go to the toilet. We quickly fell into the rhythm of life at Nobba-WaWa-Nockee. A few days later, Biggie Clagg gave us a swimming lesson, but not before we had been warned by two Beavers in the mess hall to beware of the monster that lived in the lake. "Y'gotta watch it," one said. "Y'remember Marty?" he said to his friend, who had a pinched face and a worried look. "It grabbed him right over there by that big rock. He barely got out alive. It's got some kinda spines that sting ya, and it's got suckers on its feet, and if it ever gets ya, it'll drag ya right down to the bottom and eatcha." I stood quivering in six inches of icy lake water - but not because it was cold. If there's anything I don't like, it's suckers and things with spines. "Let's go. Come on." Biggie, his massive thighs working like pistons, charged into the water, huffing and blowing as he thrashed about. A few Chipmunks waded in gingerly after him. "What's the matter with you guys? Let's get pumpin' here!" shouted Biggie, his voice echoing across the lake. The news about the suckers and the spines had swept like wildfire through the Chipmunks. We cringed together in a craven knot with the water up to our ankles. A foolhardy few had ventured out to where the water lapped at their kneecaps. "Now, I'm gonna show you the dog paddle. That's the first thing you gotta learn." Biggie apparently hadn't heard about the monster. He swam briskly twice around the rock where it lurked and headed back for shore, his huge feet splashing out behind him. "EEEEEEEEEEEEE! IT'S GOT ME!" The Chipmunk farthest out in the water - a kid named Elrod from Monon, Indiana - struggled wildly toward shore. Instantly, panic surged through the crowd. We fled screaming toward the beach. "WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAl" "IT'S AFTER ME!" "HELLLLLLLP!" As I struggled over the jagged rocks toward the shore - through four inches of water - I felt slippery things clutching at my ankles, suckers grabbing at my heels. "EEEEEEE! IT'S BITING ME!" "FER CHRISSAKE, WHAT THE HELL'S GOIN' ON HERE?" Biggie boomed out as the squealing horde scampered up the beach. Biggie followed, his hair dripping. We huddled together on the sand. "There's nothin' out there but sunfish. Don't tell me I got a buncha girls on my hands. Get back in that water!" Reluctantly, we waded back out into the lake. For an hour we practiced the dog paddle, but the terror never left us. Nobody got within 50 yards of the rock. That was the night of our first weenie roast. We sat around the sputtering campfire by the tennis court as a tidal wave of mosquitoes enveloped us in a humming black fog. Moving closer to the fire to escape them, we roasted the entire front of our bodies - leaving our rear flanks completely exposed. It created an interesting pattern of skin irritations. And, as things turned out, the mosquitoes ate better than we did. "My tongue! It's burning up! It's on fire!" Schwartz cried out in pain after he had bitten into a smoldering charcoal weenie. For a week afterward, his tongue looked like a barrage balloon. At least he got to taste his. I held a weenie in the flames for a couple of seconds until my green twig, which wasn't supposed to burn, flared into a raging inferno. Waving the stick to put out the fire, I knocked 57 other kids' weenies into the flames. I wouldn't be here to tell the tale if we hadn't been issued two weenies apiece. I didn't want to take any chances on the second one, so I gulped it down raw, following it up with 15 or 20 of the marshmallows that Beavers hadn't heated into boiling white balls of pitch and then dropped down Chipmunks' backs. It wasn't until later that we discovered the raw weenies really were raw weenies, and the action that night at the latrine was spectacular. As we milled around the fire, batting at mosquito squadrons, scuffles broke out in the dark as Beavers waylaid Chipmunks who had foolishly strayed too far from the firelight. Then Colonel Bullard made a sudden and dramatic appearance, his face lit by the flames. "This is the stuff, eh, boys? Cooking your own food under the heavens! Living the clean outdoor life! I am reminded of my own youth, spent in the clean air of God's own prairies. Now, all together, boys, let's sing our beloved Nobba-WaWa-Nockee Loyalty Song." With the fervor of a Methodist choirmaster. he led us in a droning, endless performance, punctuated by the obbligato of slapping and scratching at the fringes of the circle. Schwartz's tongue was so thick by now that you couldn't understand what he was singing. I looked up at the deep ebony arch of Michigan sky, luminous with millions of stars, and all the travails of the day were forgotten. What fools we mortals be. After the weenie roast, we trooped up to the rec hall. It was letter-writing night. Every three days, it was compulsory to write home. We hunched over the pool table and every other writing surface in the place, racking our brains for something to say to the home folks. I struggled over the blue-lined tablet my mother had bought for me. It had a cover with a red Indian head on it. Dear Mom & Dad & Randy, I am at camp. I pondered long and hard, trying to think of something else to say. But nothing came, so I printed my name at the bottom and put it in the envelope. Just as I was about to seal it, I remembered something else. I took the letter out and wrote under my signature: P.S. Schwartz burned his tonge. It is really fat. There is a funny thing in the lake that has suckers on it. I ran out of gas again. Cliffie, who was in charge of letter writing, swooped from kid to kid, making sure they were saying good things about the camp. He glanced at my letter. "My, my. This is very good." His eyes narrowed a bit at my reference to the thing with Slickers, but he let it pass. Kissel licked the stub of a pencil and started on the third page of his meticulous description of the shoulder holster he was making in leathercraft. Flick hid what he was writing. As I lay in bed that night, my stomach rumbling ominously with fermented weenies, Schwartz sprawled above me, whimpering over his bulging tongue. Flick, who had gotten a half-dozen strategic hornet stings, writhed in his sack. The kid who had the bunk above the fat Chipmunk had been picked up during the day by a gleaming Cadillac and swept out of our lives forever. For the time he was with us, he had said nothing, but he cried a lot at night. Mole Lodge was shaking down into a tight unit. Little did we realize; however, that there was a hero among us. "The canoe paddle is held thusly. It's all in the wrist. Y'gotta have a steady, even stroke, like this." At last! All my Boys' Life fantasies were about to come true. They just didn't have canoes in our neighborhood. A canoe was something you read about that Indians paddled around on Lake Gitchee-Goomie. We converged on seven or eight or so canoes that were pulled up on shore - long, imperially slim, forest green, each emblazoned with the proud yellow arrowhead of Nobba-WaWa-Nockee. Canoes are so beautiful that even the dullest clod of a Chipmunk got excited at the sight of them. Like most things of beauty, they are also highly dangerous. An unfamiliar counselor who wore a black cowboy hat, green swimming trunks and an orange life jacket over his camp T-shirt neatly flicked the canoe paddle, demonstrating the stroke. "Y'gotta have a beat. One... two... three... DIG. One... two... three... DIG. Steady. Even. Got that, gang?" We had it, or thought we had. "The bow paddle gives you the power, while the stern paddle gives you power and steers." Schwarz whispered to Beakie Humbert, another kid from Troop 41, "Which one's the bow?" "The one in the back, jerk. Boy, you don't know nothin'." Beakie was famous in the troop for his knot tying and for his merit badge for wood carving, which he got for chopping out a totem pole from a railroad tie. "Now, you guys over on this end go first." The counselor pulled his cowboy hat down over his eyes. "Two to a canoe - but put them life jackets on first." Mine was already on; I leaped forward eagerly. The next 30 seconds were a blur. I remember stepping into the front of the canoe from the little pier, with Schwartz right behind me in the back, then shoving off into the water just the way he had told us. A split second later, I found myself deep underwater, having caught a brief glimpse of the gleaming bottom of our canoe flashing in the sunlight. Wildly afraid that the thing with suckers would get me, I flailed to the surface, my life jacket jabbing me in the armpits. Weeds streamed from my hair. A frog and a small bullhead skittered out of my path. Schwartz, blowing frantically, arms flapping like a windmill, stood hip-deep in the mud a few feet away. Waves of raucous horselaughs rolled out over the water. I struggled up onto the pier, scraping my knee as I did. Schwartz continued to flounder helplessly in the weeds. The counselor paddled his canoe expertly to the wreckage. "All you guys just saw how not to do it, right?" More catcalls. "Now, let's try it again." This time I clung desperately to the pier while I put first one foot, then the other, and finally my whole weight into the canoe. Schwartz, who had sworn off canoes for the rest of his life, had retired to the shore and was hiding behind a stump. Flick eased himself into the stern, his face looking like poured concrete. We were in and still upright. "Now, push off and paddle like I showed you." I gave the pier a tiny shove, and immediately the canoe, seemingly propelled by hidden forces, glided across the water, heading rapidly for the opposite shore, two miles away. I dug my paddle into the waves to keep from cracking up on the other side. We spun rapidly counterclockwise. "Hey, Flick, paddle, willya?" I hollered, looking back over my shoulder and seeing that Flick was sitting low in the stern , his hands clamped like vises on both sides of the canoe. His paddle floated some 30 or 40 feet behind us. "I don't like this," he squeaked. We were drifting out to sea. My life started flashing before my eyes. I dug in again. We spun faster. We probably would have spent the next week corkscrewing around the lake if the counselor hadn't paddled out and towed us to shore. "All right, you gays. Give somebody else a chance." We joined Schwartz behind his stump. "Boy, I never knew paddling a canoe was so hard," said Flick as we watched two other Chipmunks flip over, their paddles flying high in the air. "Whaddaya mean, paddle?" I answered. "You didn't do nothin' but sit there." Flick thought about this for a bit, then answered, sounding bugged: "Whaddaya expect? That was the first time I was out. You were out with Schwartz before." That was true, so there was no point arguing. The gulf between the Chipmunks and the Beavers widened as the weeks went by. Rumors swept the mess hall that five Beavers, led by Jake, had pulled off a daring panty raid in the night on the girls' camp across the lake, that Jake and his mob were planning to burn down Eagle Lodge and Jaguar Lodge, and would mop up Mole Lodge just for laughs. One Chipmunk had fled screaming into the night when he discovered that he was sleeping with a woodchuck. Jake and his cronies immediately claimed credit and threatened reprisals against any Chipmunk who reported the incident to Crabtree. It was even rumored that Crabtree himself was an undercover agent working for Jake's mob. Morale among the green-beanie wearers sank rapidly. Even Cliffie, in self-defense, was trying to curry favor with Jake and his truculent toady Dan Baxter, the short, broad Beaver with the red neck and yellow teeth who had bedeviled us on the bus ride to camp, ten years ago. One quiet Tuesday, Mole Lodge was struggling fruitlessly to win a volleyball game from the Chipmunks of Jaguar Lodge, which had two 6'6" monsters who kept hammering the ball down our throats, since the rest of us averaged about 4'6". Suddenly, in the middle of the game, a rumpus broke out in the woods back of one of the Beaver cabins. Biggie had trapped Baxter red-handed with a freshly lit Lucky Strike clamped in his jaw. "OK, Baxter, I got you at last! You're the one that's been throwin' them butts around. Hand over that package." We crowded around in a big circle as Baxter, his face a rich crimson, his stubbly neck bulging with anger, hauled out a freshly opened pack of Luckies from the pocket of his shorts and handed them over. "You like cigarettes, Baxter? OK, buddy boy, you're gonna get cigarettes. You keep puffin' until I tell you to stop. You're gonna smoke everyone a'these coffin nails one after the other. Now, get puffin'. One a'you guys go get me a bucket from the latrine." A Beaver behind me who had obviously been around hissed in a low tone, "My God, it's the bucket treatment!" Baxter puffed away sneeringly on the Lucky while Biggie stood over him. Jake and his scurvy crew mumbled in the crowd, giving bad looks to any Chipmunk who dared to smile. Someone came running back with the mop bucket. "OK, Baxter." Biggie grabbed the bucket and lowered it upside down over Baxter's head. A murmur swept through the audience. "Now, you puff on that Lucky, y'hear me in there?" Biggie knocked on the top of the bucket with his knuckles, making a hollow donging sound. Smoke billowed out from under Baxter's helmet. "Keep puffin ', Baxter. That smoke is gettin' thin." Biggie knocked again on the bucket. More smoke billowed out. "How long can he keep it up?" said the Beaver behind me in an awed voice. We found out. Baxter cracked at a little over six minutes. A hollow, gurgling sound came from under the bucket. "Had enough, Baxter?" Biggie lifted the bucket. Baxter, his face the color of a rotten cantaloupe, lurched into the weeds, retching violently. "Watch it there, Baxter. You're gonna have to police that up." Biggie rubbed it in. "Hey, Baxter!" he yelled. "What you need is a nice Lucky to calm your nerves." There was another storm of retching, then silence. "All right, you men. Get back to what you were doin'. This ain't no show." We scattered. Another Nobba-WaWa-Nockee legend was born. Naturally, there were repercussions. A Chipmunk who 'had laughed openly at Baxter's humiliation was mysteriously set upon in the dark one night, depantsed and found in the latrine, his head protruding from the second hole. He was rescued just in time. Cross-examined for hours in relays by various counselors, he wisely refused to say who had perpetrated the deed . Every Chipmunk in camp knew that Jake Branlligan and Dan Baxter had struck again. "Come on, you guys, quit screwin' around. I gotta find my sweaterl You heard what old Fartridge said. We got ten minutes to get out by that crummy flagpole before they start this crummy treasure hunt." Flick was rooting around in his laundry bag as Schwartz and a couple of other guys rolled on the floor, battling over a bag of malted-milk balls they had found cleverly concealed under the fat Chipmunk's mattress. " Fartridge," of course, was Morey Partridge. Because of his complexion, he was also known as "Birdshit" among the Chipmunks. Historically, prisoners of war have always given deserving names to their jailers. Cliffie, for example, was better known as "Violet" or "That Fag" among the green-beanie crowd. It was reported that even Mrs. Bullard herself called the colonel "Old Leather Ass." Biggie had become "The Tank" or "Lard Butt" and Crabtree had evolved to "Craptree" and finally to "Crappo." He was even, among the Beavers, known affectionately as "Crabs" in commemoration of a legendary invasion that had occurred the year before at Nobba-WaWa-Nockee, after Crappo had spent a big weekend in town. The resultant furor culminated with every camper's being doused with DDT, green lime and Dr. Pilcher's Magic Ointment, but all to no avail. The scourge was finally defeated by marinating everyone, including Mrs. Bullard, in drums of kerosene. There was even talk among the state aUlhorities of burning the camp down. Mercifully, the crabs took the hint and departed for the girls' camp across the lake. The treasure hunt was the traditional high point, the crowning event in the panoply of camp life. By now, we were scarred, mosquito-bitten, smoke-blackened veterans of almost four weeks on the shores of Lake Paddachungacong. The hunt began with everybody in camp-Beavers and Chipmunks alikegathered in a huge circle around the flagpole. A tremendous campfire lit up the ring of faces with a flickering orange light. For the past week, the treasure hunt had been the number-one topic of conversation. Now, here it was-zero hour. The heat from the roaring flames blossomed the festering blotch of poison ivy under the thick coating of calamine lotion on my back. It was the darkest night we'd had since coming to camp. No stars, no moon, just the pitch black of the Michigan woods. The lake had disappeared with nightfall and become a black, sinister void. At the base of the flagpole, in the center of the ring, Colonel Bullard swept us all with the gaze of imperious command. Across the circle, I could barely make out the stolid bulk of Dan Baxter skulking behind Jake Brannigan, who was whispering to his circle of veteran Beavers. The light glinted on their golden badges of rank. I adjusted my Chipmunk cap, setting it squarely on my head. It was going to be a long night. I heard Sdlwartz chomping nervously on a malted-milk ball next to me in the darkness. All around me my fellow Chipmunks waited for the starting gun. "It's a perfect night for the treasure hunt, eh, men?" The swagger stick slapped smartly for punctuation. Beavers and Chipmunks shifted expectantly. "As you doubtless know, the treasure hunt is our yearly competition between the Chipmunks and the Beavers. And the Chipmunk or Beaver who unearths the concealed Sacred Golden Tomahawk of Chief Chungacong will bring eternal honor to his lodge. All members of his lodge will receive the Camp Nobba WaWa-Nockee Woodsman Award. My wife, Mrs. Bullard herself, designed this handsome badge. The winners will deserve their award for their valiant performance in the deep woods!" A current of fear zipped up and down my spine as he said "the deep woods." "Now, Captain Crabtree, issue the secret envelopes. And good luck to you all, men." The colonel saluted Crappo, who led his crew of lieutenants around the circle. The envelopes glowed dead white in the blackness of the night. Each lodge had elected one kid who would accept the envelope and act as leader, a purely honorary title, since leadership was not a strong point among the Chipmunks. We had elected Schwartz to represent Mole Lodge. "Stupe! Get out there! Do something!" whispered Flick from somewhere back in the crowd. Schwartz, beads of sweat popping out on his forehead, lurched forward. The Tank handed him the envelope. "Give 'em hell, kid!" Biggie slapped Schwartz on the top of his beanie with a tooth-rattling smack and passed on to the next lodge leader. We knew the rules, which said that we couldn't open the envelope until the signal. After that, every lodge was on its own, and the one to come back with the Sacred Golden Tomahawk was the winner. Each lodge had been supplied with an official Boy Scout flashlight to help us follow the clues in the envelopeclues that would carry us, in the dead of night, through the wilderness and straight to the treasure. Lieutenant Kneecamp (better known as "Peecamp") tossed a bundle of branches onto the fire. It roared and crackled, sending sparks shooting off into the blackness. "Ready, boys? Remember, play the game well." Colonel Bullard's hand shot skyward. He clutched a gleaming silver automatic. "ONE!" Schwartz sniffed loudly. "TWO!" Jake Brannigan, across the circle, crouched like a sprinter. "THREE!" BANG! The circle dissolved into a maelstrom of stumbling kids. The Beavers, with the craftiness of veterans, immediately melted into the darkness and were gone. Then the Jaguar Lodge fled whooping off and disappeared into the woods. Schwartz stood there tearing frantically at the envelope. "Come on, Schwartz! What the hell's in that thing?" somebody yelled. In his frantic haste, Schwartz ripped the envelope down the middle, tearing the clue into two neat halves that fluttered to the ground. Struggling to turn on the flashlight, I felt my thumbnail split back to the knuckle. Bodies hurtled past us. Schwartz and the fat Chipmunk scurried about in the blackness on their hands and knees, looking for the torn clue. "Gimme some light!" Schwartz grunted. I felt his hand grasping my Keds. "Leggo my foot!" "Shut upl" The light glared forth. Quickly we scooped up the two halves of paper. Schwartz squinted at the typewritten sheet and began to read: "Into the dark... This is no lark.." "What the heck's a lark?" he asked. One of the Moles answered, "Some kind of bird. Come on" "Due north by the wall... Past Honest Abe's work... You cannot shirk... Straight o'er and up Everest... 'Neath the oldest one... Only the squirrel knows." "Is that all there is?" asked Kissel. "That's it." We looked blankly at each other. "Which way is North?" I asked. "That way." Flick pointed past the chapel. "Let's go!" We charged up the path. Almost immediately, the blackness was so total that I had the sensation of running upside down all the ceiling of a black room. The others clumped and crashed around me. "Hold it, Schwartz!" There was something wrong with the flashlight. It kept going off and on. "My shoe came off!" wailed Flick. "Where's the light?" We found his shoe and got it back on. Mole Lodge was beginning to fall apart. 'We examined the note again. "What's this 'wall' stuff?" Schwartz croaked. "I don't know," someone said. "Well, let's go north till we hit it." That seemed like a good idea. "Where's north?" "Why don't we look for some moss?" "Moss?" "Yeah, moss. It always points north." We scrounged around in the poison ivy, looking for moss on a tree trunk. "Hey, you guys, here's some!" Flick sang out excitedly. Sure enough, he had found moss at the base of an oak tree. "It goes all the way around!" Another theory shot to hell. "Well, it's kinda thick on this side." We charged off once again, crashing through the dense underbrush. Branches slashed at my face; brambles and sharp twigs gouged and ripped. I began to feel a deep, mounting fear. I had no idea where we were or what would happen next. Schwartz, who was thrashing around ahead of me, was now carrying the light. I could hear Flick fall heavily from time to time behind us. Up ahead, the flashlight suddenly vanished, along with Schwartz. A second later, the ground disappeared beneath me; I was in free-fall. I clawed at the air, then hit hard, rolled over and over down a steep hill and finally hit Schwartz with a grunt. Other bodies landed on top of us, squirming and writhing. Mole Lodge lay in a heap at the bottom of a ravine. Scratched, bruised, scared, we huddled next to a huge ghostly boulder. The flashlight still worked, but it was growing dimmer. The silence of the woods was total. We spoke in hoarse whispers. "What do we do now?" Nobody answered. Finally: "Where's Skunk?" For the first time, I noticed that the fat Chipmunk was no longer with us. "He musta gone back to the lodge," Flick whispered. "He's probably back there eatin' malted milk balls." I felt a twinge of envy. Schwartz switched off the light to save the batteries. Once again, we huddled in the darkness. Crack! Crunch' Oh, my God! Something was coming at us. "Turn on the light, Schwartz!" Flick squeaked. The light flared on, its beam quivering in Schwartz's hand. There, in the feeble ray, stood Jake Brannigan. Behind him a couple of other Beavers lurked, dark blobs against the trees. Brannigan flashed a crooked smile. "You little stupes are makin' enough goddamn noise in the weeds here to scare the crap alit of every raccoon within fifty miles. Right, boys?" His toadies guffawed behind him. Now we're gonna get it. I thought. This is it! Mole Lodge is about to be annihilated by the Brannigan Gang. I inched backward. "Hey, Dan," he said over his shoulder. "Tell these boobs who's gonna win that golden hatchet." Dan snorted derisively, spitting out a long stream of dark-brown fluid. Jake's look of scorn softened for a moment in what might pass in another man for pity. "You guys lost? Lemme look at yer goddamn clue." He grabbed the pieces from Schwartz's hand. I was surprised he could read. ''I'll give you dumb kids a break. This 'Honest Abe' crap must be about that rail fence up that away. He pointed up the ravine. "Now, get outa our way." We did not have to be told twice. Mole Lodge galloped up the ravine. The last sound we heard was Jake's dry cackle; and then we were alone. "Boy, that was kinda nice of him, helpin' us out like that," said Flick. "Sure was," I answered, too relieved at having been spared to question Jake's unaccountable fit of compassion. We struggled against vines, falling rocks and tangled undergrowth. And a few minutes later, sure enough, there was a fence! It stood ahead of us, gray and sagging. Schwartz darted under the top rail. I followed. Close behind me came Flick and the other Mole Lodgers. It was even darker here than back in the ravine. We inched along the fence blindly, gropingly. The ground seemed to be rising steeply. We struggled upward, each wrapped in his own fear. Camp Nobba-WaWa-Nockee seemed millions at miles away. There was only us and the blackness. Our flashlight had faded to a birthday-candle glow. We clung together in a tiny knot. Schwartz held the light, futilely pointing it ahead. I was just pulling an angry thistle off my knee when Schwartz, close by, sucked in his breath hard and sharp. The sound he made was like no sound I had ever heard anyone make before - a kind of rushing, gurgling gasp. There, in the glow of our flashlight, loomed a huge, monstrous live Thing! "Brruuuuuuffff'" it snorted. "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEYYYYYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!" I heard a deafening scream. It was me! Flick shot back past me like a cannon ball, moving with maniacal speed, sobbing rhythmically. I felt the ground pounding beneath my shoes. Schwartz kept pace with me in a curious clawing scrabble. He was running, pushing himself forward with whatever touched the ground - his head, his knees, his elbows and occasionally his feet. He yelled hysterically over and over: "THE THING! THE THING! THE THING!" As the cry was taken up by other voices in the darkness, I heard crashing ahead, to the left, to the right, behind, all around me. I ran even faster. Flick gasped between sobs, "Jake done it! Jake done it! He sent us to the Thing!" Even as I faced certain death, I realized that Jake Brannigan had planned it all. I heard muffled thuds as bodies collided with tree trunks. Sweat and tears poured down my face. My eyes burned. My head throbbed. My lungs were ready to burst. I pained from a million cuts and bruises. Ahead, I became dimly aware of a faint glow. My knee crashed against a tree. I ricocheted off a stump. I hardly felt it. I got up and ran on. Suddenly, it was all over, like some nightmare that ends with a pail of water in the face. We broke into a clearing at blessed Nobba-WaWa-Nockee. I never thought I'd see it again. All around me, battered and torn Chipmunks, their eyes rolling wildly, pursued relentlessly by the Thing, popped out of the woods. Even a few hysterical Beavers raced by. We were safe. Miraculously, though it was covered with mud and stickers, still had my Chipmunk hat on. Old Leather Ass stood there glaring at us, his face grim in the flickering light from the campfire. "This is a sorry spectacle! What's this nonsense about a Thing? What Thing? There's nothing in those woods but the gentle creatures of the forest right, Crabtree?" Crabtree nodded, but you could tell he wasn't sure. "This is the first year in the history of Nobba-WaWa-Nockee that no lodge has returned with the Sacred Golden Tomahawk. I am appalled at the craven behavior -" "Excuse me, Colonel Bullard, sir. I beg lO differ, sir." From somewhere off to my right, a reedy voice broke in. The colonel, who was not accustomed to interruptions, slapped his thigh angrily with his swagger stick. "What's that?" "Excuse me, Colonel, sir. Is this your sacred golden hatchet?" The voice was drenched with sarcasm. A figure stepped out into the circle of firelight. Great Scott! It was Skunk! His Nobba-WaWa-Nockee T-shirt was crisp, his green beanie square on his head, his thick glasses gleaming brightly. He held something in his hand. "By George, that certainly is the Sacred Golden Tomahawk. SPLENDID!" "Thank you, sir. When my fellow members of Mole Lodge childishly panicked, I simply took matters into my own hands. It was quite interesting, actually, although ordinarily these idiotic games bore me." The camp was in an uproar. Mole Lodge had come through! That night, back in our snug cabin, covered with iodine and Band-Aids, Schwartz sidled up to Skunkie and asked him where he had found it. "In the Longlodge, of course, in the case where it's kept on display all year round. It was simple deduction that they'd try to mislead us into believing the tomahawk was buried somewhere in the woods, rather than right here in camp in plain sight of everyone. The clues led me straight to it." We didn't know whether to put him on our shoulders or throw him into the lake. The next day, Saturday, our last day in camp, was bright with golden sunshine, turning the lake into a billion flashing diamonds. After our last breakfast, the Chipmunks and Beavers, in two platoons, assembled on tile tennis court. Colonel Bullard addressed us: "You Chipmunks have come through magnificently. And now for the moment we have all awaited. There have been good times and difficult times. but we have come through it with clean bodies, clean minds and stout hearts. I now pronounce you, with the power vested in me by the Great Spirit of Paddachungacong, full and honored members of the Sacred Clan of Beavers." The ex-Chipmunks cheered and, in the hallowed tradition of Nobba-WaWa-Nockee, flung our hated Chipmunk caps into the air. A storm of green beanies rose over the tennis court. A moment later, I zipped up my crisp new blue Beaver jacket with its golden emblem bright over my heart. We sauntered back toward Mole Lodge, over the gravel path, past the administration building. We had three hours to kill until the buses picked us up and took us back to civilization. There they came now, wheezing up the rutted road. I saw a row of pale, staring faces all wearing bright new green Chipmunk beanies. Casually, we swaggered past the rec hall. Someone nudged me. "Lookit that buncha babies." It was my fellow Beaver Jake Brannigan. "How 'bout that short little twerp?" I barked cruelly. "Let's throw him in the crapper." "Nah," Jake answered, spitting between his teeth. "That's too good for the little bastard. How 'bout a cow flop in his soup?" "Not bad, Jake," I answered, as we set out for the nearest meadow. "These kids are gettin' worse every

Additional Comments:
This story was reprinted in the book "A Fistful of Fig Newtons"

Copyright: 1971 Playboy Magazine

Where Shep Made Reference To This Subject
Links to Further Information:
• More on the Mole People

August 1971
Playboy - Cover

August 1971
Playboy Letter to Editor - Note from Shep

August 1971
Playboy - Pic

August 1971
Playboy - Playbill