I was there, of course. My brother Chris was with me, and so were Patrick Johnson, my best friend and next-door neighbor, and his brother, also named Chris, who would in a year or so cheat my brother out of $5 (his entire life savings), resulting in a "fight" during which, under fear of getting my ass beat, I'd launch a vicious kick at his groin (and miss) and then run away as fast as my legs could carry me. But, like I said, that wasn't going to happen for another year or so. It was summer vacation, and we were all between eight and ten. We were gathered in my back yard, behind the shed, speaking softly. We, the four of us, were devising a Plan. We were about to do something stupid.
Chris (my brother) broke away first, and went into the house. Mom was inside, doing laundry and watching Sara and Jaime. Chris was the one we sent because it'd be weird for Pat or Chris J. to enter our house unescorted, and I was a nervous and twitchy kid, and could not be trusted to stand up under questioning. Chris, at that point in his life anyway, was a smooth cat and a born liar. He did mildly bad shit all the time, and either got away with it or somehow blamed it on me. He was definitely the man for this job.
The first part was relatively simple. In the basement, in Dad's work room, in the corner behind the table saw (unplugged), was an old fiberglass reverse-curve bow. It was unstrung, but the string hung limply from one end. Chris would have to open the door very quietly, and he'd have to sneak the bow up the stairs and out the door while Mom's back was turned. We crouched behind the shed, peeking toward the house, waiting. Chris was gone forever, then emerged from the back door, half-crouching, half-running, with the bow tucked under his arm. He ducked behind the shed and let out a loud breath, as if he'd been holding it the whole time. I took the bow from him, and passed it to Pat. It was huge -- probably 5 feet long -- and green. The string was a group of individual wires made of some unknown material, not braided together, but rather held together at each end by a loop, and in the middle by a wrapped wire about a handspan long.
Chris rested against the back of the shed. We said nothing. After a few minutes, he nodded, headed back toward the house, opened the door, and went in again. We heard Mom say, in an irritated voice, "In or out -- make up your mind." To which Chris replied, quickly, coolly, that he had to go to the bathroom. "Downstairs," said mom, "I just cleaned the upstairs." Pat and Chris J. and I exchanged smiles -- rather than arousing suspicion, Chris had actually tricked Mom into sending him right where he wanted to go. It was brilliant. But the hardest part was ahead.
We knew the arrows were in Dad's work room somewhere, but we didn't know for sure where. They were hidden from us because Dad thought we couldn't be trusted. But recently, while helping Dad rip a piece of plywood on the table saw, I thought I'd glimpsed the yellow arrow shafts under a pile of rags on the top shelf next to the door, when Dad grabbed a rag to wipe sawdust out of the tablesaw's motor. The shelf was high. Dad had a ladder down there, but the old rickety thing was so loud that it practically squealed when you looked at it. Chris could stand on the table saw to reach it, but he'd have to drag the heavy steel contraption across the concrete floor, which would likely create as much noise as the ladder. The safest move was to climb, but it was still risky -- should he fall, or knock something off a shelf onto the concrete, he'd be caught and, like any modern government, we three would deny we had anything to do with his scheming.
Once again, we waited. We picked and ate a few crab-apples from the tree behind the shed. They were tart and tasty, but if you ate more than two or three you'd get a horrible stomach ache. Chris J. started to do a pee dance, and Pat sent him back to their house to do his business. After a few long minutes, the Johnson's screen door banged and Chris J. came running back behind the shed, still zipping-up, afraid he'd missed something. He hadn't -- my brother still had not emerged.
There was some talk of sending one of us in after him. "You could just say you had to go to the bathroom, too," I told Pat. He shook his head. "Chris?," I asked. "I just went," he replied. Chris J. was not the smartest of us.
Then we heard the sound of the screen door spring, and of running feet. Chris came around the corner of the shed, breathing fast and heavy. In his hand he held one arrow. It was a long-shafted yellow target arrow, with a smooth bullet-shaped tip and blue fletching. I took it from him, and he collapsed to the ground to recover his strength. "You only got one?" I asked. "There was no time for more," Chris said solemnly.
It was now time to string the bow. Dad could do it easily -- we'd seen it a dozen times, but it took strength and leverage, and none of us, with our height and scrawny arms, had either. I was tallest, so I hooked one end in the arch of my foot and braced my knee on the inside. Chris looped the string around that bottom end and passed it up, and then held the bow next to my knee to provide added support. Then Pat, Chris J. and I all grabbed the other end, and pulled down and back. The pressure against my knee was terrible, and we all groaned with the strain. I pulled the string up toward the back-bent tip ... closer ... closer ... until, finally, the loop slid over the tip and into the notch on top. The bow was strung, quivering with tense power.
All four of us had been or were in the Cub Scouts, so we'd all shot a bow before. Chris actually had a small, red, kid's compound bow and a target in our room (the arrows were too short to use with Dad's bow, in case you were wondering). But it was not nearly powerful enough to be of any interest to us. And targets, well, they were just boring.
Despite my height, it had earlier been unanimously decided that I was the physically weakest of us, so I became the pedestal. I took five steps away from the shed, still hidden from the house but in a sort of clear area between two elm trees. I held the bow up over my head, arms outstretched and a little more than shoulder-width apart, a hand on either side of the grip. Chris carefully knocked the arrow, which pointed straight up, the notched end and fletching a few inches above my head. Patrick grabbed the string on either side of the arrow, his right thumb holding the arrow in place. Chris closed both of his hands over Pat's left hand, Chris J. did the same over his right.
"Okay," I whispered. "One ... two ... pull!"
I turned my face away from the action, cleverly so as not to put my eye out. Pat, Chris and Chris J. all pulled downward together. The bow had a 55 pound pull -- they struggled mightily, and managed to pull it almost all the way back. They held it there, shaking. Chris groaned slightly. Pat's eyes were squeezed closed so he could concentrate on pulling with all his strength, but Chris J.'s were wide open, watching the tip of the arrow, now just a few inches above the grip. I surveyed the scene out of the corner of my eye. "Hold on," I said. I pulled my head back and away from the quivering bow as far as I could.
"Now," I said.
Chris, Chris J. and Pat all let go of the string simultaneously, and tumbled to the ground in a heap. The bow jumped out of my hands and I fell backward, flat onto my back, banging my head on the ground. The bow landed a few feet away. My vision was filled with sparks from my head hitting the ground, but I could see, just for a second, the yellow shaft shooting upward. And then it was gone, lost in the bright midday sky.
This was not in the plan. In the plan, we'd watch it fly upward and then, when it started to come down, we'd watch it and make certain we were well clear of its approach. The plan hinged on the idea that we'd be able to see the arrow -- it was bright yellow after all -- the whole time. But now the arrow was up there, somewhere. Invisible. And it had to come down sometime.
Simultaneously, we realized our danger. Like mice caught when the lights come on, we scattered. Chris ran back into the house. Pat ran toward his house. I ducked tight against the nearest tree and covered my head. Chris J. ran out into the road, where he was now in danger of falling arrows and careless drivers. I screamed at him, "Get out of the road, you retard!" and he dove into the lilac bushes beside it.
After a few long minutes, I moved away from the tree, and Chris J. emerged from the bushes. We looked at each other for a moment, and Chris J. shrugged and jogged back to his house. I picked up the bow, still scanning the sky, and carried it back behind the shed. I figured Chris and I could come back for it later. Then I headed into the house and down to our room, where Chris was sitting on his Star Wars bedspread, grinning at me as I walked in the door.
A few days later stumbled across the arrow, stuck deep into the ground on the far side of the dike where we were playing beside the Mouse river, about 200 yards from our house. The next time we did it, we didn't run, assuming the wind would carry the arrow away again. In the stillness of that day, and because there were only three of us and we couldn't pull the bow nearly as far, it came almost straight back down, but got caught in a tree before any of us could be killed, so that was the end of that. Fall came, and then winter, and you could plainly see the yellow arrow high in the skeletal elm tree. Dad never mentioned the arrow missing from his work room, or what I'm sure he assumed was that same arrow high in the tree, or the fact that we'd broken a chunk off the tip of the bow getting it unstrung. He'd known all along we were not to be trusted.