Authors: Cynthia DeFelice
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For the past denizens of the K.C. House and forts everywhere
This is the 100 percent true story of the summer IâWyatt Jonesâwas eleven and built a fort in the woods with my friend Augie Valerio.
It isn't the story I handed in to my teacher about how I spent my summer vacation. See, there's stuff that happened that you can't really talk about in school. Not unless you want to get in trouble.
Plus, there are things in here like dead squirrels. And squirrel guts. And some maggots.
There are weapons, too: a slingshot, a pellet gun, and a pocketknife.
I'm just warning you, in case that kind of stuff bothers you.
But anyway, I think it's a pretty good story, even though you know from reading this that I lived through it, which, believe me, I wasn't sure was going to happen.
“Aw, this is getting too easy,” I said to Augie. “We need something that moves.”
We were lying on our bellies shooting Augie's pellet gun at some tin cans we had lined up on a fallen log.
“Well, I guess we could get Herkimer,” Augie said.
I sat up. This was interesting. Augie knew someone named Herkimer? And this Herkimer guy would let us shoot at him? “Who's Herkimer?” I asked.
“The stuffed owl in my great-uncle's attic,” said Augie.
Augie's my best buddy here in upstate New York, which is where my dad and I have come to spend the past three summers. Augie's great, but sometimes it takes me a while to figure out what he's talking about.
“This owl is stuffed?” I said.
Augie nodded. “But it looks really real.”
?” I asked.
Augie laughed. “No, pea brain. It's
I sighed. “Well, you brought it up when I was saying we need a target that
It was Augie's turn to sigh in exasperation. “So, like I said, we put out Herkimer.”
“And what? Wait for him to get struck by lightning and come back to life?”
“Man,” said Augie. “I keep forgetting. You city kids don't know anything. See, crows hate owls. They see an owl and they go nuts. They all go after it, trying to make it fly away. It's called mobbing. So we put out Herkimer, the crows come, and we shoot
“Wow,” I said. “Cool. So how do we get Herkimer?”
Augie frowned. “It's not going to be easy. My uncle loves that owl. He keeps him in a glass display case and everything. But my aunt says Herkimer's nasty and disgusting, so she makes Unk keep him in the attic.”
“I thought you told me he was your great-uncle,” I said.
“Huh? Oh, he is. But it's too hard to say âgreat' every time. And my auntâshe's actually my great-aunt, but she doesn't like to be called that, because she thinks it makes her sound oldâshe says if I call my uncle great, he'll only get a big head and it's plenty big enough already. So I just call them aunt and uncle.”
“Oh,” I said, kind of wishing I hadn't asked. “So, anyway, how are we going to get the owl out of the attic?”
Augie scrunched up his face the way he did when he was thinking. So far, Augie's plan sounded like genius, and I waited to hear the rest.
“Okay,” he said at last. “Here's the mission.”
Augie liked to plan “missions.” It made the stuff we did sound real official.
“Unk's probably down at Juliano's junkyard shooting the breeze with Al,” he went on. “Since he retired, that's where he's been spending most of his time. So you just have to distract my aunt while I run up to the attic and snag Herkimer.”
“Okay,” I said. “So I create a diversion, right? Throw a stink bomb, something like that?”
“Yeah, cool!” said Augie, looking excited. “Ya got one?”
“A stink bomb?” I asked. “No. You?”
We thought for a while.
“I know,” said Augie. “What if we stop by real casual, like we just want to say hi, you know? My aunt will probably ask if we want lemonade or cookies or something, and I can say I have to go to the bathroom, and while she's asking you how the winter was and how your dad is and all that stuff, I'll go upstairs, get Herkimer, hide him outside in the bushes, and come in again. We'll stay long enough to be polite, and then leave.”
I nodded. “Sounds good. How will we get Herkimer back?”
Augie shrugged. “We'll figure that out later. You ready?”
We rode our bikes a little way up the gravel road to a house with the name
painted on a new mailbox that stood out front. I read it incredulously. “Wait,” I said. “I know he's your Uncle Heindel. But is his last name really
Augie nodded. “German side of the family.”
?” I repeated. “Seriously? His name is
Heindel Hinkle? Heindel Hinkle?”
The more I said it, the more it cracked me up. After a few seconds Augie was laughing, too, and soon we were both rolling on the Hinkle lawn in hysterics.
“Augie?” called a throaty voice. “Is that you?”
Augie looked up, his face red and his eyes tearing from laughter, and finally croaked, “Y-yes, Aunt Hilda.”
Heindel and Hilda Hinkle
?” I sputtered, before collapsing in another burst of helpless laughter.
“Augie, are you all right? And is that Wyatt with you? Is he having some kind of a fit?”
Augie pulled himself together enough to whisper, “Can it, Wyatt. Come on, you've met Aunt Hilda before, haven't you?”
“Yes,” I gasped. “But I never knew about the Hinkle partâ” Just saying
made me lose it all over again.
Augie glared at me murderously. Then he called to his aunt, “Yeah, it's Wyatt. He thought he got bit by a yellow jacket.” Looking at me he added loudly,
“But he's okay now.”
Augie stood so that his body blocked me from his aunt's view, while I struggled to my feet and tried to, as my mother would say, “wipe that smile off my face.”
. Okay. Good.
At last, I turned and, with what I hoped was a normal expression, said, “Hello, Mrs. Hinkle.”
“Why, hello there, Wyatt. Please, call me Aunt Hilda, won't you?”
I nodded and smiled.
“I was hoping Augie would bring you by one of these days. You boys are in luck. I've been baking this morning.”
Wow. Like Augie had said, I'd met Aunt Hilda before. But how was it possible that I had never noticed that she hadÂ â¦
“Why don't you boys come on in and have a glass of milk and some nice, warmâ”
â¦ really, really bigÂ â¦
I mean, they were humongous. Like she had two big water balloons under her blue-and-white-flowered shirt. I knew it wasn't polite to stare, especially since she was Augie's aunt and all, so I tried not to.
We followed Aunt Hilda inside and sat down at the round table in the kitchen. Everything happened pretty much the way Augie had said it would. As I was discovering that snickerdoodles are German sugar cookies with a real good cinnamony flavor, Augie asked if he could use the bathroom.
While he was gone I heard a few loud thumps that sounded like they might be coming from the attic, and I nearly had a heart attack, but Aunt Hilda didn't seem to notice. She was too busy asking me about how I liked being here for the summer with my dad, and didn't I miss my mother, and all those questions people ask when your parents are divorced that are probably meant to be nice, but feel kind of nosy.
I considered for a minute breaking down in sobs about how tough it is for a poor child of divorce like me, in the hope that she would sweep me to her in a warm, comforting embrace, just to see what it would feel like.
But instead I told her I really liked coming here, that I was used to it because I'd been doing it since I was eight, and that I talked to my mom every Sunday. All true and, I could have added, no big deal.
Finally, I thought I heard the front door open, then close, and Augie reappeared and gave me a crazy smile and the thumbs-up sign. We quickly finished our glasses of milk, thanked Aunt Hilda, and left, promising to come back in a couple of days for brownies.
After that, we hid behind a shed until we saw Aunt Hilda go out to the backyard to hang laundry. Augie raced to the bushes out front, grabbed Herkimer, and threw him in the basket on his bike, and we pedaled away like mad.
When we got back to the fallen log where we'd hidden the pellet gun, I took a good look at Herkimer. He was a great horned owl. I knew this from all my trips to the Natural History Museum with Mom. And he was a beauty. His striped body feathers were smooth and soft, and his ear tufts stood straight up. His stern, yellow glass eyes stared so fiercely that I almost felt like he could see me.
“Man, look at his feet!” I said, moving aside the feathers to expose huge, sharp talons. I held him up as if he were flying right at Augie's face and hollered, “Look out! He's coming after you!”
Augie ducked out of the way and said, “Knock it off, Wyatt. Unk will kill me if anything happens to that owl.”
“Okay, okay,” I said. “So what do we do now?”
“We put Herkimer right here, like so,” Augie said as he balanced the mounted owl on top of a fence post. After making sure Herkimer was solidly placed, he picked up the pellet gun and told me to get the boxes of ammo. “Now, you and I hide over here in these bushes so the crows can't see us, and we call them.”
I laughed. “What? You know their names?”
I was kidding around, but Augie scowled and said, “No, dummy, we go like thisâ” and he began to make harsh cawing noises which, I had to admit, sounded pretty cool.
I tried it, and Augie winced. “You'll get better,” he said, though he sounded kind of doubtful.