Welcome back for Part two of my short story.
We know the boys are heading to the river with some tobacco. Should be fun to see what happens!
If you missed part one click here.
(copyright is held by the author)
Two Boys and Some Smoke
Leaving his chum no choice, he scrambles up the side
wall and starts towards the forest. Reluctantly Chops stows the wagon behind
the dense growth of small trees to follow his friend. The boys enter the woods
at a tall and aged spruce that was planted sixty years ago marking the division
of property between the Warren brothers. Every fifty feet there is another one
the same age for the three hundred feet it takes to get to the river. A narrow
path weaves through the giant trees, made by the many feet. Boys, a few girls, sweethearts,
men and women that came to fish, they all follow the same route. John Jr is
ahead by about four strides in a boyish gait, not yet a full run. Beans’
shorter legs make keeping up a tough job.
“Hey hang on, don’t run so fast.”
“No you run faster Phil.”
“Why do I have to keep telling you, don’t call me
John Jr comes to a boyish halt halfway to the water,
sliding his rubbery soles along the dark earth. He faces his friend with arms
akimbo. His eyes are even darker in the shade of the woods and Beans can see
he’s serious as he catches up. He’s breathing heavy from the exertion and
questions his friend’s stony stare.
“Tell me what’s so bad about Phil?”
Beans reddens a little from the cruel jibes he
remembers his schoolmates making of his name when he started school. He hated
his name, not that any of the other three he had were any better. Many times in
his young life he was disappointed to have been called him Chadwell Horatio
Orville Phileas Sangster. They called him Philly when he was very little. Then
Phil; until the meanies at school started using it as a verb. While randomly
doodling his initials one evening he noted they spelled CHOPS. He said it out
loud a few times, liking the hardness of the P with the complimentary S. That
was it; he would only answer to Chops. Everybody thought it was neat.
His voice is bashful, quiet, just above a whisper.
“Well you remember the jokes!”
John Jr makes a dismissive waving motion in the air
with one hand while he pushes his dark hair off his forehead with the other.
“So what? That was a long time ago. Nobody cares any
more. And besides we’re bigger now, we’re tougher, right? And I think Chadwell
is a neat-o name, just Chad is even better. Sounds like a movie star’s name.”
Chops eyes widen at ‘movie star’. A huge grin
scrunches up his freckles, he’s totally attentive as John Jr continues.
“Use that, no more Phil. Problem solved. I mean who
wants to be named after a piece of meat all their life. It’s worse than going
to the john.”
John Jr starts to chuckle at his jibe. Chops becomes
serious as he thinks of the pork chops his family ate last night. His oldest
sister had cooked them and they were burnt. Even though they were a bit dry
they tasted not too bad. The name doesn’t hold the same appeal anymore as he
considers this. He stares at John Jr with pursed lips and scrunched brow before
finally nodding his head.
“Okay, I’ll give it a go if you promise to give
anybody a knock if they tease me.”
Chad is left speechless at the reversal of his joke,
not quick enough to think of a good retort. John Jr doesn’t wait for an answer
but turns to begin running to the river, his laughter following him there. Chad
is about to get mad when a vision of the pretty young girl floats through his
pre-teen head. He usually thinks of her laughing when he does but lately he has
been focusing on the budding of her slim chest. He blushes again at his own
innocence and shakes the idea away. Tearing off at a full trot he forgets Mary
Jane as he sees John Jr. zig to the left at the last tree before the river
The water is high with the winter run off, only a foot
below the bank. It’s not wide, maybe fifteen feet. It rushes towards a larger
river five miles away. Bubbles froth around debris that lies just below the
surface. Dead branches poke their dark fingers through the twirling ribbon of
racing water. Chad can hear it over a hundred feet away. The sound reminds him
of the wind blowing in the leaves. As he gets closer the symphonic gurgling of
the wavelets gets louder. He stops and scouts under the branches of the last
old spruce and he can see John Jr seated on a dead log that fronts the water
about ten feet away. Scuff marks are at the foot of the log where people have
sat and fished for many years. John Jr’s
big brother, Dave, always said he wished the gnarly old log could talk. The
boy’s never understood what he meant and he never explained his comment but
they would catch on soon enough.
John Jr is propped on the wooden seat, his feet about
six inches off the ground and he’s a tall boy. Chad has to scrabble up the huge
bole using the stubs of broken limbs for footholds. His toes dangle another
three inches higher. Sitting closely he
watches John Jr unfold the hankie. A forbidden fascination pricks his senses
and he feels the goose bumps on his neck but he can’t stop smiling. He’s
thinking how manly his neighbour Mark looks when he has a smoke. He’s in
college and the girls all follow him around.
“We’ll be just like grownups.”
John Jr is straightening out the four edges upon his
lap, the brown shreds flattening out on the surface. He looks at Chad.
“Well, maybe not to grownups, I ain’t going to tell
any but maybe to the girls.”
John Jr can’t believe what he just heard. He tosses
his hair back with an upward nod.
‘So it’s okay now to talk about the girls”
“I don’t wanna talk about them just maybe let them
know somehow that we’re smokers.”
“Yeah we’ll tell Ruthie, they’re friends.”
Concentrating on the task at hand John Jr pulls out a
crinkled collection of small white papers. He tugged several from his brother’s
pack and jammed them in his pocket.
While he is trying to unfold the tissues and loosen one free Chad says,
“You know how to roll a cigarette?”
“No but I saw Dave do it, it doesn’t look so hard.
John Jr finally gets one paper free from the group and
passes the extras to his pal. He holds the glued edge facing him and sets in on
the hankie edge. Pinching the weed between his fingers, he piles it on so that
you can only see the white corners under the mound. They both stare at it for a
minute, there doesn’t look anything round about it. Chad finally says, “Now
John Jr nudges his friend who is sitting too close to
his right arm. “Gimme some room and hang on a sec, I’m trying to remember what
comes next, how do you pick this mess up?” Chad shrugs and says nothing. John
Jr remembers Dave making a U with the long flat edges. Grasping the edges and
bringing them together proves to work quite well. It’s rolling one under the
other that requires a little skill. John Jr fumbles with the paper trying to
roll it back and forth like he saw his brother do until he eventually tears it
and spills all the tobacco on his dungarees. Chad has been quiet watching the
procedure. Now young Sangster may be a slow learner with his numbers and the
alphabet but he has an acute understanding of what John Jr is trying to do.
“Let me try.”
On the hankie spread upon his pal’s lap, he flattens
out another paper, the strip of yellowish glue on the top. Two generous pinches
of curly cut leaf cover the paper once more.
Fumbling with the edges, the excess tobacco spilling out, he gets the
paper into a respectable U shape and starts to roll it in his stubby fingers.
Most of the stringy mass is in the center and when he tucks the edges in, the
handmade cigarette is fat in the middle and pointy on the edges. John Jr is all
smiles at his friend’s skill.
“Wow, that’s pretty good Chops…Chad, I mean. You gotta
lick the yellow edge to make it stick together. Unroll it a little bit.”
Chad just nods, fully concentrating on the task.
Slowly unfurling the wrinkled paper he exposes the glued edge. He frowns before
he sticks his tongue out. Saliva moistens the glue. A quick roll back and he
proudly passes his buddy the finished product. Pleased with himself, his feet
are rocking back and forth like a dog wagging his tail, the heels knocking on
the dead log. He beams at John Jr who has the cigarette clamped between his
lips as he fumbles in his shirt pocket for a match. The cigarette dangles and
bobs up and down as John Jr mumbles.
“Do I look more grown up?”
“Oh yeah, you look like you should be in Grade 9 or
Chad only nods as he watches John Jr takes a wooden
match out of his pocket. The red head is perfectly round and fills with fire as
he runs it over the toothed zipper of his dungarees. As the flame flares John Jr sticks the end of
the cigarette in while he takes a huge puff. While doing so he remembers the
deep breaths that Dave would take when he smoked. Removing the burning torch from his lips he
inhales a mouthful of smoke that is half paper and half tobacco. John Jr’s
lungs are as virgin as the rushing water before them and they don’t react
pleasantly to the harsh and foreign substance. John Jr spews smoke and spit as
he begins to deeply cough. The cigarette flies from his hand, the match flips
into the air. Both land in dried leaves and twigs that make the finest tinder.
John Jr losses his balance and with flailing arms rolls backward from the tree
they are on, still coughing. Hanky, tobacco and crinkled papers are flung in
the air. Chad is struck by one of the flailing arms and tumbles over the log as
well, landing on his side. John Jr is beside him curled in a fetal position
hacking and spitting.
Chad sits up to help his friend, dried leaves stuck to
his shirt and in his hair. Tugging at John Jr, they come to rest with their
backs against the log. A few minutes later John Jr finally stops coughing and
looks at his friend. Snot runs from his nose, tears have trailed down his
cheeks, his eyes look confused, his throat stings and he doesn’t want to cry in
front of his friend. Chad doesn’t say anything, instead hands John Jr. the
dusty rag from his back pocket. John Jr gratefully takes the cloth and starts
to wipe his nose when Chad comments.
“I don’t think I want to start smoking, not if I have
to do that too.”
They can’t help it, they’re boys and start to chuckle
and soon they’re rolling on the ground again laughing when suddenly John Jr
sits up, the laughter dies. “I smell smoke.”
The wooded area they are in is mostly alder bushes
along the river edge and some slim open grassy strips like they are on. The
grass is long, stringy and dry as birch bark.
The match has started a small fire, the cigarette ten feet away is
working on another one. The smoke swirls straight up turning grey as it cools,
a slight breeze carries it over the fallen log. By the time the boys realize
something is burning, the fire is spreading and already three feet long.
The boys stand quickly looking towards the water. The
smoke shifts shape at eye level and dances in the air. The two are mesmerized
by fear as they stare down at the flames. It looks larger than what it is as
the flames lick the tall stalks of dead grass. The flame seems to leap off the
ends of the burnt threads as they jump from one clump of grass to another. John Jr is the first to react from the
realization that they are in a lot of trouble. Scrambling over the log he yells
“C’mon Chops, we gotta put it out.”
Chad is broken from his initial fear to follow his
buddy. They hustle over to start stamping their feet on the flames. The grass
strip is twenty feet long and two to three feet wide before it tangles into the
alders where more fuel lies in the shape of dried yellow and orange leaves. The
puffs of sparks and bits of flame disturbed by their sneakers only spreads the
fire. The smoke blooms thicker and engulfs the boys. They have to back away,
terrified of the burning grasses. The two are coughing when from behind them
comes a barreling voice filled with anger.
“What are you hooligans up to here?”
Old man Hamm was strolling to the river to fish.
Although the water is high, he is usually one of the first to cast his worms into
the chilly water. He was coming upon the last tall spruce when he smelt the
smoke soon to see it as stray wisps floated by the opening in the trees.
Leaving his fishing rod on the path he rushed forward to find the two boys near
the grass fire coughing. They jumped at his deep voice turning to face him with
both relief and guilt etched into their youthful faces. John Jr blurts out an
“We didn’t meant to start a fire Mr. Hamm, it’s…it’s
my fault. Please help us.”
“Get out of the way then boys, let me at it.”
Purvis Hamm has already eyed where the fire is going. The end away from him
will stop at the worn path where the trail continues down river. This end could
be trouble so he stamps his boots on the grass near them. His Kodiaks are a
size twelve and crush the fire beneath their large soles. He soon has the
flames under control and watches the other end die out. The river bank for
about twelve feet is blackened ash, some of the grass or thicker stems still
smouldering. Hamm turns towards the boys
standing off behind him, his chunky arms upon his hips. The two that stand
before him, one of the Sangsters and the Williams kid are about the saddest
sight he’s seen for a while. He’s ready to give them a blast when he stares at
them with a scowl and puffed cheeks. But
he can see that they’re cowed. Their knees are both shaking. He remembers when
he was about their age and started a fire in the school yard one spring. He
softens inside but doesn’t let on.
“What happened? And no fibbing.”
John Jr has spied the hankie on the ground close to
where he is standing. He bends to pick it up. Tiny shards of tobacco still
cling to the rough fibers.
This causes Hamm to grin, such pups being so
“Well, did you like it? Was it worth burning the
The boys shake their head vigorously with nothing to
say, they’re studying the ground at their feet. Both red in the face with
shame. Chad thinks of his father’s thin branch in the wood shed and asks in a
“Are you gonna tell our folks?”
Hamm studies them for a moment, wanting them to know
they did wrong. The heads are down. He wants to laugh at what he knows they
must be feeling, he was a boy too once. He thinks the fire scared them enough.
“You boys should wait until you’re older before you
start smoking. You could have caused a lot of damage today and I expect you
both know that.” He rubs his jowls as the chins of both boys fall deeper on
their chests. “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. The heap of drying wood
behind my house needs to be piled by the shed. Make sure it gets done before
the end of next month and I’ll keep mum on what you two were up to.”
Both young heads pop up in unbelief. They can’t
contain their relief. Chad is jumping from one foot to the other and John Jr is
shaking his head up and down. They both speak out at once. “Thank you Mr.
“Okay get out of here you two and no more fires.”
The boys take off running. They run all the way to the
gravel pit, Chad not far behind this time. They’re panting and puffing when
they reach the wagon. Both realizing how
close they came to burning down the forest, they are deep in thought as they
head home. Chad pulls the wagon as a matter of habit. The wheels squeak in the
silence, the dust balls puff at their feet, the flames grow larger in their
thinking of what might have happened if old man Hamm hadn’t of come along.
Chad Sangster started smoking when he was eighteen,
the day after he joined the army. John Williams Jr never had a cigarette again
for the rest of his life.
Thank you for visiting the Scribbler. I hope you enjoyed this story. It will be published in an upcoming collection of short stories called Boxes of Memories due for publication in late 2018. Watch for it here.
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