Here We Come, Ready or Not!


A Moe Minsky Tale

Written By Al Geto


    The crowd of shouting boys, tanned by a summer of sun, soaped themselves on the wide dock at the edge of the pine-embraced lake. A raft, mounted by a silver slide, floating twenty yards out awaited their arrival. But every one of the campers at Pineland was too vigorously engaged competing in the weekly soap derby to think about swimming until Uncle Maury, the bloated waterfront counselor in dark sunglasses, chose a winner. Seated atop his lifesaver’s platform at the corner of the dock, a whistle around his beefy neck, megaphone in hand, and looking huge enough to displace the small lake, Uncle Maury sweated copiously and watched as the boys soaped while the other counselors cheered them on.

    “Two more minutes!” he warned loudly, and blasted his whistle.

    Yelling for his attention and prancing up and down the some fifty kids ranging in age from seven to fourteen kept soaping themselves and sometimes each other, a few with oversized sponges producing mountains of blobs.

    “You could win! You could win!” Derek Robbins cried as he wielded his sponge, spewing cascades of foam. “Geez, Larry! Stand still, will ya?” He squeezed a sparkling crown of bubbles to cover his friend’s head, topping the creamy billows already formed on his shoulders and the rest of his body, head to toe.

    “The soap’s getting in my eyes!” Larry howled, squeezing them shut.

    “Shut up! We’re gonna win!” Derek assured him.

    The shrill of Uncle Maury’s whistle pierced the sunbaked air again.

    “Here we come, ready or not!” Derek shouted above the din. It was their cry of victory that summer, his and Larry’s, as tennis doubles partners, and in the canoe regatta, and as runner-ups in the dramatics festival. Uncle Maury blew three final blasts.

    “Time’s up!” he cried through his megaphone, perched on his pedestal. It was close to lunch hour and he was hungry enough to eat a small boy. The cloudless blue Massachusetts sky reflected in the unruffled lake as the campers fell into a dead silence. But Derek shouted out.

    “Here we come ready or not, Uncle Maury!”
“Who’s that?” Uncle Maury demanded, seeing the snowpile of suds on a boy he couldn’t identify.

    “Larry Landers!” Derek cried.

    “First prize!” Uncle Maury agreed at once.

    With cheers and catcalls for second and third prize, the campers ran to the end of the dock and began diving into the water, instantly washing away the soapsuds and heading out to the raft.

    “I got you to win!” Derek yelled, pounding him with the sponge.
“Shake!” Larry grinned, wiping the soap from his pixie face. They shook hands. “We’ll split the prize. Come on! Let’s go out to the raft and do our double-man slide. “

    “I’ll follow you,” Derek said.

    Larry, still too chicken to dive, jumped in holding his nose, submerged, popped up, and swam for the raft. Shivering a little as a breeze swept over the lake, Derek watched him flailing his thin arms as Larry made it all the way out, climbed aboard, mounted the slide, waved to Derek, then zipped down into the water. Instead of following him, Derek plucked his bathrobe and towel off the row of hooks on the dock, found his slippers and started up the camp hillside towards the two rows of bungalows, taking a last look back. The raft was jammed with kids and Derek felt crowded out. He had a sense of urgency about the summer coming to an end. He and Larry seldom had a chance to be together without a ton of people around all the time. And they were in different bunks. At night after lights out the kids in each bunk would lie in bed talking, or have pillow fights. Of his three bunkmates two of them were mad for scouting and spent hours working toward merit badges, an activity Derek scorned. The third one occupied a bed in the infirmary half the time with a post-nasal drip, which is what Derek always thought he was.

    Although Larry wasn’t so hot at sports, Derek was worse, yet between them they made it in tennis and won a couple of the sophomore canoe races. Derek, however, was rather a loner and felt the need for a private friend, which Larry had more or less become. But Derek imagined a deeper friendship, including code words and signals and secret letter writing. He thought about Larry a lot and dreamt of him and twice had awakened in a panic dreaming about him. In one of those dreams Larry had turned into a slithering eel, but very friendly.

    Alone in his bunk, lying on his cot, he thought if he and Larry put in for a boat during the after-dinner activity hour he would reveal to him the landing about half a mile up the shore where he had found a place to beach it behind an outcropping of tall bushes. There, a few yards into the forest of pines, he had discovered a cave and had sat in its giant maw like Robinson Crusoe, lost to the world. Beaching boats any place but on the campsite was strictly forbidden. But he was sure he could talk Larry into it. Larry was neither bold nor brave, but he was spunky and a good wrestler. In July, on Derek’s twelfth birthday, they had sneaked down the road to the Hayride Shop during free time and Larry bought him a Buffalo Nut Sundae and a harmonica. If that wasn’t a real friend, what was? He loved him for that. Neither of his divorced parents had come up from New York to visit him that day. They had sent him presents. His mother sent a cardigan. His father sent a fishing rod. If there was one thing he couldn’t stand it was seeing a fish caught on a hook, its mouth bleeding, struggling to survive and flopping around in the boat glassy-eyed and dying.

    The smooth waters parted in gentle ripples as the rowboat, painted blue and orange, the camp colors, silently skimmed the lake. The two oarsmen sat side by side each pulling a long wooden blade in unison under a sky streaked with gold.

    “They’ll see us from camp if we try to land,” Larry said.

    “They won’t, I swear,” Derek pledged. “There’s one counselor on duty at the dock and he’s probably trying to hold hands with the nurse, that Miss Bigass.” Larry fumbled his oar laughing.

    “Miss Bogart hasn’t got such a big ass,” he said.

    “She has so. And big other things, too. Girls are overloaded. Hey! Watch it! We’re here. Just the other side of those bushes. Pull on your oar and it’ll swing us toward shore. Now easy, easy. Great. Now pull hard to get us up on
the sand. Great!”

    The boat ground on to the beach. Derek hopped out. Larry stood up in the boat observing how well protected they were by the bushes, then followed him as Derek led the way into the trees. The cave, a massive collection of thousand ton boulders loomed, a rugged, monumental natural architecture, its mouth formidable, open as if roaring, its interior a multitude of dark and threatening passages.

    “Wow!” Larry said. “This must have been an Indian camp. I bet the Pawnees were around here!”

    “I think it was the Iroquois. You remember that Indian arrow head I gave you? I found it here.” He kicked the soil. “You want to look for some?”

    “Yeah! Let’s go in.” Larry moved toward the interior, listening.

    “I wouldn’t go down any of those,” Derek said. “Not without a flash.”

    “Just a little way. To see where it goes,” Larry said. He continued to explore, picking up a short, thick, bleached branch. Derek followed cautiously. They were into one of the more gaping passages when Derek grabbed his arm.

    “No! Wait!” he whispered. “Did you hear that?”

    “I didn’t hear anything,” Larry whispered back.

    They listened. A hollow, soughing sound like a haunting sigh, barely audible, came whistling softly from the passage.

    “Let’s go!” Derek shouted, dragging Larry after him, fleeing from
the cave. Larry shook him loose as they came out, panting.

    “It was nothing, only the wind!”

    “We can come back in the daytime,” Derek said. “Besides, I want to show you something.”

    “What?”

    “I left it in the boat.” Larry followed him through the trees when emerging on the shoreline Derek called in alarm. “Holy cow! The boat!” It had drifted out into the lake.

    “I’ll get it,” Larry volunteered kicking off his sneakers and removing his sox. He waded into the water almost up to his shorts.

    “Watch out!” Derek warned. “There could be snakes.”

    “What’d ya have to say that for?” Larry said, inching forward. At the next step the beach dropped away and he plunged in over his head.

    “Hey!” cried Derek. But the soap derby winner popped up, a surprised look on his face. He grabbed the boat and pushed it back to shore.

    “You’re soaked!” Derek exclaimed, beaching the boat more firmly. “You better take off your stuff.” Larry had already begun to remove his camp T shirt with its pine tree emblem. “Your other stuff, too,” Derek advised. “It’s chilly. You could get pneumonia.”

    Larry removed his shorts and began wringing them out. “I can row back in my underwear,” he said.

    “What for? I’ll give you my shorts,” Derek volunteered. He started taking them off.

    “Yeah, okay, thanks,” Larry said. He removed his briefs then tossed them into the boat with the rest. When he turned back, Derek, crouching and hopping around, his hands flung out, naked, howled, “Here I come, ready or not!”

    “What are ya doin’?” Larry said, laughing at Derek’s ape-like jumps.

    “Let’s wrestle the way the Indians do!” Derek challenged, excited. “They always wrestled naked.”

    “You nuts? Come on. I’m freezing. Where’s your shorts?”

    Derek tackled him. Unprepared, Larry tumbled to the sand, Derek on top of him. Responding to the assault Larry fought back, laughing. But in the ensuing battle he realized immediately that far from fighting with him Derek was caressing him. He tried to disengage but Derek desperately clung. Striking out hard with a fierce breakway movement Larry untangled himself and leaped to his feet. Derek dropped to the sand, blood trickling from his lips.

    “Holymoly, I’m sorry!” Larry cried, bending over him. “Geez, I didn’t mean to do that. Hey, Derek. You okay?”

    Derek crawled away, swayed to his feet, stumbled to the lake, walked in up to his knees and splashed water on his mouth. In silence, Larry donned the trunks, slipped into the boat and took his place at the oars. Crying softly, Derek climbed into the front of the boat, sat on the boat bottom against the prow, leaning over it, staring ahead at the lake, Larry’s back to him. Larry hesitated, shivering, then shoved off with one of the oars and began rowing towards the camp.

-Al Geto




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Copyright August 3, 2000-

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