Thorns from the thick briars tore through my shirt as if it were only paper and then through my skin like a dull knife trying to carve a Thanksgiving turkey. A jagged, bloody line opened up from my stomach to my face.
Struggling to get free from my green entanglement, the grip of the thorny vines only tightened. It was as if the vines were alive and weren’t going to let go of their captive.
The serration across my torso kept oozing blood, and I knew I was in big trouble; there was no denying that. Big trouble not because Dad would be upset that I had ruined another shirt — though he most certainly would be. And not because Mom would be upset her baby was hurt once again — she was always upset when one of us kids got hurt.
The “big trouble” was now wading through the tall grass that grew on the edge of the Haunted Forest, moving directly towards me, and I couldn’t move! The screams from Bully Brad and his gang of three were getting closer and closer. Things were about to get worse … a whole lot worse. But what happened next is still hard for me to believe.
Guess for this story to make sense, I really need to start at the beginning. The year I turned seven was the hottest Indian summer ever to heat up Flamingo. It was as predictable as Down the Street Bully Brad being bad. Indian summer is the week in the middle of winter, during which daytime temperatures reach into the mid-seventies.
That year, it arrived the first week of February and temperatures during the day were in the mid-eighties.
Saturday morning my three brothers, Neighbor Thomas, Preston Weston III, Bubba Hanks, Goof and I met in our backyard for an adventure of vine swinging. After watching the latest Tarzan movie, we were convinced we could swing from vines too, and the largest vines were dangling from trees that lined the edge of the Haunted Forest.
Everyone knew it was dangerous to enter the forest, but we thought by staying on the edge we’d be safe, and no one should get hurt. We weren’t, and this time, not one of us, but all of us got hurt.
When we started playing, Goof looked normal — at least as normal as Goof could. But by the end of the day, he was beet red from head to toe. Why? Just keep reading Dear Reader, this is about to be one itchy story.
Past the swamp in our backyard and up around the fishing lake we walked until we reached the edge of the Haunted Forest. Goof was the first to climb up one of the huge trees bordering the forest.
After grabbing hold of a large vine, Goof gave a mighty yell and leapt off the limb he was standing on. Just like Tarzan, he swung through the trees, and then slid down the vine back to the ground. He made it look so easy, we all wanted to try being Tarzan.
One by one, we climbed trees, swung through the air hugging our vines, then slid down to the ground. Everyone was having a great time, until it was my turn. And that’s when Bully Brad and his gang of three arrived … each carrying a gallon bucket of dirt clods.
With Bully Brad and his gang of three in front of us and the Haunted Forest behind us, there was only one way to escape. Up! My brothers and the rest of the kids from Flamingo ran to nearby trees and started to climb. I ran into the one place no one would follow — the Haunted Forest. I was wrong. Bully Brad was following me in!
My escape was to climb the nearest tree; a tree that had hairy vines growing all over it. Dad had told us never to touch a hairy vine, but the choice was simple: climb a tree covered in hairy vines, stand and get hit by dirt clods, or climb a small tree which had skinny vines that would probably never hold my weight.
Ten feet up the small tree, I grabbed hold of a muscadine vine, let out a mighty Tarzan yell, and leapt out into space and freedom. As I was mid-swing, the skinny vine suddenly snapped, sending me down into my briary prison. For a moment, or a long time, I’m really not sure, my world went dark.
Waking up tangled in briars, hurting from head to toe, I could hear the screams getting closer and closer. The screaming was from Bully Brad and his gang being pummeled by sticks and dirt clods thrown by Bubba, Goof, and my brothers. They were chased away as Neighbor Thomas and Preston ran over to free me.
We were all injured that night. Some had cuts, others had a few scrapes, but Goof was by far the worst. After breaking out in a red rash from head to toe, he learned that day never to climb a tree covered in hairy vines.
The forecast is for Indian summer to arrive soon, so enjoy wearing shorts during the middle of winter. But a few words of warning: tell your kids to watch out for any neighborhood bullies carrying buckets. Those buckets are probably full of dirt clods. And don’t let them climb trees covered in hairy vines — aka Poison Ivy.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]