The third step
Growing up at 110 Flamingo, my three brothers, sister and I had summers packed full of one adventure after another. For seven years, we had dirt clod and water balloon battles, did flips off of rope swings into the cool waters of Cripple Creek, and rode trees in the Haunted Forest.
Unfortunately, in the middle of all those adventures, a few times things went horribly wrong. Those misadventures scared even us. When that happened, we never told our parents for fear they would never let us out of our rooms again.
This story is one of those misadventures.
The final defense of the tree fort worked just as planned. Some 15 feet below us, sprawled on his back, lay motionless the meanest kid who ever lived on Flamingo Street.
At that moment, six kids high up in the trees started to argue, “Now what do we do?” Was Down the Street Bully Brad alive, just knocked out, or dead? Sure, we could continue to throw sticks and sweet gum balls at him, but there was really only one way to be certain. Someone had to climb down and poke him.
After a quick game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, the loser climbed down and — armed only with a stick and bolstered by the cheers of encouragement from above — found himself just inches away from certain death.
The belly of the beast was then poked. Nothing happened – Bradley McAllister didn’t move. Another poke ended with the same results. I looked up at Goofy Steve, Bubba Hanks, and my three brothers, “Guys, he ain’t moving. Think he’s dead.”
That’s when Bully Brad opened his eyes, reached out, and grabbed my ankle.
After the massive cave-in of the fortress at Cliff Condos the month before, my parents had lost all patience with us digging into limestone cliffs. They made new rules, rules they thought would keep us kids safe during the rest of the summer.
Their solution: no longer would we be allowed to dig caves. Jumping off cliffs and landing into piles of dug dirt was also forbidden. And the one rule they thought would keep us safe when all the rest failed – no forts of any kind built anywhere on the ground ... or in the ground.
Our solution: build a fort in the air. Unfortunately, because of our brilliant solution, Big Brother James and I almost died right next to each other some 30 feet underground. And no, our parents never found out.
So just how do two kids from Flamingo Street go from playing in a tree fort to almost dying 30 feet underground? Well, read on, dear reader, you’re not gonna believe this one.
To give proper credit, the tree fort was James’s idea. Seems he always had a knack for building, even back at 110 Flamingo Street. Older Brother Richard and James went up Flamingo Street, Twin Brother Mark and I went down towards the cul-de-sac.
Our mission: Collect scrap wood from construction sites for the tree fort. After a week, James announced that we had enough and could start building. He picked a giant sweet gum tree that grew on the right side of our property and overlooked a deep valley. When completed, our fort on one side would be 15 feet off the ground, but from the valley side, it would be almost 30.
After a month of building, the fort was finally finished. Safety measures — we had many. A wire mesh railing kept us from rolling off the edge at night. Security lights and an emergency escape rope swing were installed. Buckets of sweet gum balls were gathered to rain down on any enemies that might try to overtake our fortress.
Finally, from the ground up to the trap door in the floor, a ladder of wood blocks was nailed to the tree. Each block had four nails to hold it securely to the tree. Except block number three. It only had one nail. Step on this block, it would pull out and you’d fall.
Bully Brad had used the third step.
There was no break away from his iron grip. Bully Brad started to get up just as a bucket full of sweet gum balls rained down on his head. As he let go, I tumbled down the valley – coming to rest in a crumpled mass at the bottom.
Madder than a wet hornet, my arch-nemesis stormed down the hill. His ultimate goal – pound me into the ground. Just before he reached me, there was a Tarzan yell from high above. James had grabbed the escape rope, jumped off the tree fort, and swung down to knock him over.
He never made it.
Seems ropes are more slippery than vines in the jungle. His hands slipped, and he fell. He lay next to me, not moving. With James probably dead, Bully Brad bearing down on me, and no possible escape, I panicked and ran to the end of the valley. At the last moment, I wiggled into the drain pipe that went under Flamingo Street – not knowing that horrors awaited me inside the pipe.
The confined space made progress agonizingly slow. On my back, my nose inches from the pipe, I wiggled my shoulders and pushed off with my heels. An assortment of multi-legged creatures and spiders crawled over me as cobwebs wrapped around me. For what seemed like an eternity, I inched along.
I thought I’d reached a safe distance away from Bully Brad. Since he was so much bigger than me, surely he couldn’t possibly follow. At the middle of the pipe the air grew heavy. Breathing became difficult. I started to yell, and then cry, but no one answered. I was too far into the pipe to be heard. I panicked and couldn’t move and started to black out. That’s when something really, really, big bumped into my foot.
This story will conclude next week.
[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for over 26 years and a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. His books are available at www.RickRyckeley.com.]