Viking Camp, p.1Mark Fitzgerald
Copyright 2010 by Mark Fitzgerald
It was to be spoken of for fifty years to come. Twenty years already now, since it happened, it is retold to each incoming group their very first night. It was historic. It was heroic.
But we'll get to that part later.
First, we have to do what they call in high school English, "the exposition of the antecedent action". I have to tell you about the things that happened before "it". The other things that happened on that island in Texas.
Two summers before, Parker took the job, not to be part of the rugged outdoors but, to be close to Carla; who was also going to spend five blistering weeks at this Boy Scout camp by a lake in North Texas. As were a good half dozen other theatre students from Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth.
Not that they saw much of each other over the five weeks, in the end.
The program had a number of "outposts" which the Scouts would visit, one after the other, until they had completed their week in the wilderness. Parker's was "Viking Camp".
Parker didn't know "jack" about Vikings. That was the province of Steve. Steve was the college professor who came to the island every year to teach the boys and girls all about Vikings; just as he did for university students the rest of the year. But at Viking Camp you also ate like a Viking. And slept like a Viking . And probably smelled like a Viking. AND you fought like a Viking…. to the death!
That first year Parker was the second in command, after Steve, and before his three assistants. Which meant he did most of the hard work. The hard work was clearing the battleground of the last years undergrowth and cutting the paths to the porta potties for a week before the first campers arrived. Followed, for five weeks, by preparing two meals a day for forty starving boys and girls, teaching forty boys and girls how to wield swords and shields and engaging them in combat on the training day and on the day of the "battle"
That was the program. Campers arrived at 2:00 in the afternoon; all conveyed to the island by canoe from the mainland. All afternoon was spent training them in the use of the swords, lances and shields; while keeping an eye on the huge cauldron of ham and barley as it festered over the open flame of the fire pit. Oh, and keeping an eye on the fire. It gets dry in Texas; lakeside or otherwise.Watch those campfires.
Parker by his own admission was not so effective a Viking warrior. He could explain it well enough. He talked a good game but he was vulnerable so, he had a plan that worked every single day.
As he told the tales of Viking lore and suited up the kids in their heavy vests and helmets, he keep his eyes open to determine who, among all the boys, thought he was the toughest. When they had all been shown the ropes, Parker announced it was time for a demonstration. "Who wants a piece of me?" Parker would taunt. And, before anyone could reply (know one ever volunteered anyway) he would point out the "tough" guy. And give him a good whipping. Which was easy at this stage. Probably harder in the following morning, if a rematch were made.
The next morning was the "battle". Half of the combatants would defend the beach. Half would arrive in the authentic but scaled down wooden Viking Warship; that Parker and his assistants would row out to sea fully loaded with warriors and then right back to shore to meet the defensive might of the islanders.
It only took a matter of minutes until the battle was won .. or lost… depending on how you see it. The boys or girls were on their honor to accept their deaths upon receiving a mortal blow.
A wooden sword or lance won't kill you.. but there is no denying to oneself when you get hit, that you are now dead.
And that was Viking Camp. A couple of hours later, forty Scouts will have "broken" camp and moved on to "Texas Ranger" outpost. And four hours later an armada of brightly colored canoes would bring in another forty Scouts; as another pot of ham and barley surprise went onto the fire.
Saturdays were free. Twenty hours of leave. Spent driving an hour and a half home to Grand Prairie, to shower, wash clothes, get in a little X-Box, eat some vegetables, sleep in a clean cool bed and then drive back to take part in the weekly welcome party given to all the campers as they arrive for their week of adventure.
That was the only time Parker would see the others. Carla. Parker was the only one of the college age kids that was entirely on his own at his outpost. This was fun, to be with the others once a week. They all had fun playing jokes on the arriving campers, acting like "big-shots", pretending to be "bad-ass". Parker never got any Carla time, really. It was just as well. Carla was just too much.. too much of everything. She was so outgoing, so beautiful, so ….. unattainable. There were other girls working the camps too. He made new female friends. Not that he would ever spend any time with any of them. Facebook friends at least.
One cannot know Texas, unless you have travelled the entire state in each of it seasons. Of course, in some parts there are just two seasons. At Sid Richardson Boy Scout camp, there are just two seasons. Cold and insanely hot and dry. It's hilly around the lake. The soil is so dry that a car leaves a plume of dust that is virtually opaque to the driver to his rear. Probably need a quarter mile to see safely following another vehicle. The white dust infiltrates everything. And tastes great!. It is a part of Texas that has mesquite trees. More like a "weed-tree" are mesquites. Prolific. They drop these long green bean like things that are full of seeds. Animals eat them and poop them out….. and the mesquites end up everywhere the environment is amenable to them. In many ways they are beautiful. Gnarly like bonsai trees. Caution, the thorns on their branches, which they seem to shed easily, will penetrate a sneaker sole in a heart beat. Hurts to high heaven. Add to the flora plenty of "prickly pear" cactus and a crazy assortment of other nasty arid plant life and live oak trees. As for fauna…. you know, animals, you get mountain lions, bobcats, armadillos, possum, snakes and, on the island, an old draught horse whose name changes each year. He just wanders the property all year long. Friendly to the humans though. He had a mate. She passed.
Oh, not to go unmentioned, the locals claim the area as the home to the mythical "chupacabra".. half coyote/half dog…. full ugly.
Bugs? Of course. Is a scorpion a bug? Should look it up I guess. They're out there though. In your shoes and sleeping bag if you don't check.
Viking Islanders sleep in tents. Some of the staff on the other outposts have trailers. Not on the island though.
No A/C. That stands for NO AIR CONDITIONING. Unbelievable discomfort until, somehow, you acclimate.
The lake water is okay. Warm enough for sure. Not exactly crystal clear. There are actually no natural lakes in Texas. They are all creations of the Army Corp of Engineers, either as reservoirs for potable water or as flood control measures. They are all sort of semi-opaque. Parker always recalled the anecdote his parents told of having let him stumble as a toddler as he walked in a foot of water and him totally disappearing from view in that shallow pond. Yikes. Be assured, though, the waters of Texas are brimming with fish.. way down below where it is cool or in the little sub-marine crevices with the catfish.
Parker was native Texan. Fifth generation in fact. He was complected for the Texas sun. Not Cooper though.
Cooper. Helper number one. Thirteen years old. Red-headed. Pale. Almost chubby. Sullen. Lazy when unattended.
Parker's first year at camp was Cooper's second. He was already there when Parker made his arrival. He was already doing the bidding of Steve; getting the camp ready for the first round of Scouts. He was bewildering to Parker. Parker, now almost twenty, had not been around a kid of his age or temperament for a long time. Nor had he ever been in a supervisory position
What Cooper was good at, uncannily, was combat. He was unbeatable. One round of sparring and Parker was humbled. And wounded. He took the heavy shield across the bridge of the nose defending himself from one of Cooper's blows. No break but a big bloody gash. The shield is just as good a weapon as the sword.
There were other assistants. None of whom Parker could stand. One was a high school senior, who like Cooper had worked the camp before and came to camp with a lot of attitude and a general willingness to let others do the heavy lifting. One was autistic. Brooding. Unaccounted for much of the time. The kind of person you secretly fear might slaughter campers one night like in a slasher movie. Like Friday the 13th. The first version, which was only a couple of years old and had not yet been made into a dozen sequels and ultimately a really crappy remake.
Professor Steve camped on his own part of the island. All the other island staff camped right next to Parker. Parker hated the intrusion. He finally convinced Conner and the autistic kid to camp in the big tent at the Viking campsite proper but the "butthole" wouldn't take the hint and go someplace else.
The second year on the island for Parker was very much a repeat. Carla was there again, along with a few others from his school. Carla had graduated at the end of the fall semester and went on to her current career as interning actress AKA waitress. Parker was far less enamored with her. Her penchant for experimenting with substances and genders over the last year had somewhat taken the "freshness" from her.
He liked her. They were friends still. Just, he was no longer distracted by her.
This year, there was no Steve to mentor Parker. It was his island. He was the Viking guru. But the task was easier than it might have been because, two days into "getting ready week" , who but Cooper showed up. Just the same as ever. Just taller. And much better focused and energetic. And just like the year before he sustained what would surely some day prove to have been fatal sunburns. Still too proud or stupid for a hat and sunscreen.
It was stunning how fast the five weeks of year two went by.
Year three had nothing at all to do with Carla. She simply disappeared after camp closed in year two. Parker came back because, as a graduate theatre student, he had yet to find his own waiter gig. And, he realized too that the camps had made a man out of him, so to speak. And, he realized, life soon enough closes the door on opportunities like this and then you have to settle down to the sorry business of making everything happen at once and for ever.
At least there was Cooper for continuity. Cooper was seventeen now and was a leviathan of a young man now. Leviathan for you less read readers is a giant. He was huge. Otherwise unchanged. Still quiet. Still sullen at times. Still one great big freckle at anytime ready to one big sunburn.
This year Parker and Cooper co-managed. It was outright easy for once. They had their own campsites. Cooper no longer need a "sitter" or someone to share the dark with. He was fearless now.
He really looked the part of the Viking warrior. Parker deferred to him entirely as the teacher of the art of combat. The new recruits feared him. And Cooper adopted Parker's tactic of humbling the "tough guy" . It was something they could laugh about with every new day.
"You know if you fought more, you'd get better." Cooper, a man of few words, rarely chose his words well. But, it was amusing to Parker.
"Next year, it's all yours Coop. I'm as good as I need to be, I think. Not much call for it the real world, really. I'm okay with watching. I like my nose the way it is."
To which Cooper replied, "Really?"
They were cutting up ham as they did the same time each day, just after the last batch of warriors canoed across the lake to their next adventure and after their two hour break in which they would have loved to siesta, were it not excruciatingly hot.
It came to Parker suddenly; the proposition he put to Cooper. "Hey, what would you think if we took turns doing the supper.. I mean, I do it one day and you do it the next. That would give us some time at least every couple of days to do something besides this same of crap everyday of the week?"
It was not in Cooper to ever express his real preferences, so he simply acquiesced with an, "Okay.. you work tomorrow then."
When Parker's break-day came, two days later, he was already looking forward to carrying out his plan.
On the far side of the island was a little cove. Most of the island simply rose out of the water gradually. The muddy shores just tapered off into the lake. But the cove was different. It was a bounded by rock outcroppings. As a result, the water was deeper close to the shore than anywhere else. You didn't have to wade out thirty yards to be able to swim. Wading out was always unpleasant; stepping on who knows what that couldn't be seen in as little as a foot of water.
Nevertheless, it was unknown just how deep the water was in the cove. Not cliff diving safe probably, although, sure enough there were modest little cliffs. The Texas lakes didn't form naturally. They were just areas deliberately flooded; covering up trees and bushes and goodness knows what else. It was conceivable that one could dive off a cliff and punch through the rotted roof of an old farmhouse just below the waters surface. But not likely.
Today, Parker was going to float mindlessly on his air mattress until his duties called.
Scaling the rocks.. is it scaling if you are headed down?.. was challenging. They were hot as hell. He wished he had not left his shoes at the top. But he made it and with mattress held to his chest he launched himself out about five feet from the rocks before the mattress hit the water and scooted out about ten feet from the shore. There was no tidal action at all. He could shut his eyes for long periods, not drifting out or in relative to the shore. It was like mediating he thought, though he had never meditated. It expanded the senses. Probably the sense of smell the most. This whole end of the island was the most verdant, the undergrowth and trees was the heaviest on the island. Every plant had its own smell. Even the ones that might be "stinky" were appealing in this context. One plant, he couldn't identify, was particularly fragrant. The whole cove was imbued with it.
Probably his already roasted flesh insulated him from the suns wrath. Three hours later he was back at camp without the least symptom of sun stroke. Cooper could have endured three hours too. Only he would have been sick for days after, had he.
Two days later, given the few options to do anything otherwise, Parker trod back to the cove on his "break". But he couldn't get in the water today. There was a boat anchored in the cove. And professional courtesy, so to speak, kept him at a polite distance. There was some loving going on in that boat. He was polite enough not to snoop, but it was hard not to have seen enough to know some girl's father would be really, really mad if he knew the use his boat was being put to by that little bastard she was dating. Hereafter, it was "kissin' cove" in Parkers mind.
He went back and helped Cooper. It was something to do, at least.
Over the next few weeks he got in a lot of cove time. He kept it to himself. He didn't think that he should encourage Cooper to swim without a partner. And he knew his parents would be displeased if they knew he was swimming alone too.
It was funny though…… as much time as he spent at the cove he never saw "it"….. Yet "it" was right there and easy to spot really.
Cooper, just like Cooper would, had his own use for his break time. Unknown to all but Cooper, he had taken to riding that old horse on the island. Saddle-less. He had a bridle. He "jacked" it from the main stable at the main camp. They had lots and he would return it later. He took his time wooing the horse and it was likely that his gentle manner was quickly perceived by the horse anyway. By the end of the first day the horse would stand along side a park bench under the old canopy he shelter under and Conner would just hop on. Dismounting was a bit of a jump. Parker would have been jealous. No envious at the most. Cooper could have some great ideas.<
Scouts come from all over. In groups of eight to ten with at least one supervising adult. Scouts and supervisors come in all genders too. And mixed. Not that often "mixed", but certainly more so than years before.
The Girl Scouts were a special breed. They were both girls and gals. Princesses and pals. Usually the girls would be in their early teens, rarely as old as sixteen. They were certainly noticed by the Boy Scouts of that same age. Given enough time, they would find the way to consort with each other.
The Scouts from Utah were the model of discipline and courtesy. They were the favorites of the camp guides. Something to be said for that upbringing.
The boys from New Jersey were in league of their own. Fuggedabowdit. Attitude. Not bad attitude.. no, just bravado…. moxy…. vinegar…. Pick a word, there are plenty that apply and none that are enough in themselves.
Five troops arrived that Tuesday, late in July when the drought had been scorching the island for a month already. The Jersey boys strode up on to the beach like they were liberating Europe. The Girl Scout troop from San Antonio was smitten. So much for the two other troops of Texas boys and the Colorado bunch.
The "ten Vinnies" was the name Parker came up for them. Conner used it too, but didn't really get the references.
Yes, their leader was a "Vinnie". Vincent Scarolli. Fourteen years old. Looked sixteen. Acted like he was seventeen. Thought he was eighteen.
That troop had one of every flavor. A fatty, a cry-baby, a nerd, a suck-up and six trouble makers. Three were Cassanovas.. in their own minds and, admittedly, in practice as well. Parker would try to keep them away from "kissing cove". The potential of the cove would not be lost on these boys.
The Girl Scout troop was only six strong. A full hand as well. At least physically. All shapes and sizes. Not so much in terms of personality. They were all "go-to" girls. They showed that in combat. Tears flowed, from vanquished little boys. Not a single tear from a girl.
Vinnie took a beating. First by Cooper, of course, and then by Valerie, from San Antone…… The old shield in the face.
Viking Camp by Mark Fitzgerald / Actions & Adventure have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes