Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 1: Winter Camp LIV

by Jeff Rand

John joined the others as Winter Camp 54 commenced with its traditional opening meal "The Coprophagous Lunch." This veteran of nearly fifty Winter Camps sensed that something was not quite right with this Winter Camp.

The Coprophagous Lunch was making its fourth return to the Winter Camp menu, although it had something of a rocky start. During its debut at Winter Camp 51, several campers suggested that it be served without utensils. This ultimately ended in a food fight and extensive cabin cleaning being required. Mark Bollman, serving as health officer at the time, sought to curtail the madness and it was only after much compromise that the meal was to return at all.

When all had nearly finished this fourth exciting installment, the cooks, who were all called "Steve Wilson," offered a special surprise. They brought forth the large Donohue pot with the remains of the meal. While most of the solids had been consumed, a soupy broth remained. In practiced unison three anxious cooks proudly announced the long awaited "We now introduce for the first time in Winter Camp history - the communal straw." The campers quickly finished all of the remains with delight, most probably not realizing that it was of marginal nutritional value.

John surveyed the crowd. Winter Camp had grown in recent years. All of the veterans were there of course, along with the "larva" who had attended less than 30 camps and never would rightfully be called veterans until all of the old men were dead. Included in the larva were his two sons Kyle and Alex. John was surprised to note that there seemed to be little or no dropouts in the last three or four years. Certainly all of the newcomers from Winter Camp 53 had returned to join the fun.

Again he glanced towards the youth, thinking to himself that they sure were an odd bunch. Now Winter Camp has always had oddballs in attendance, especially in its early days. It had gone through many generations of youth, many of whom never quite fit in. It was as if society became more prosperous, it offered the soft life that most youth favored over the rigors of Winter Camp. Over the years there were a few here and there that had the ambition and became Winter Camp regulars, but these youth in recent years were much more like the pioneers and came to Winter Camp with much energy and enthusiasm.

John was not assigned any duties for cleanup and since no gaming had yet to begin, he decided to walk over to the Winter Camp Information Center. He sat down near a console; but before he glanced at the screen two new Winter Campers joined him. He recognized Charles Powell, but had forgotten the name of the other one. Both were clean cut youth about 14 years old and smiled as they greeted John.

"Mr. Howey, we have some questions about Winter Camp in the early days," said the one he did not recognize.

"I'm sorry, I did not catch your name. And please call me John."

"Christopher. Christopher Jordan from Troop 7734. I'm a Star Scout and I took my ordeal last spring."

John replied, "Glad to meet you Chris, I mean Christopher. Now you know that I was not one of the pioneers. You have to talk to one of those old bald men in the other room."

"Yes we know," replied Charles, "but we have studied all of the material on the Net in preparation for coming to camp. In fact, we both passed the basic trivia exam with perfect scores. We want to know about life at camp in the 20th century. You impress us as one who has attended camp for they joy of it and could put it in a perspective of a participant rather than an owner."

"Wow," thought John, "these kids are sharp." Feeling a bit honored he explained, "I take you back to Winter Camp X. I was a youth of 18 years at the time. We had a pretty good gaming enterprise going in Clearwater, but most of us kids were little challenge to Steve Donohue. He pretty well controlled the Clearwater group, or Grey Area Goons as we were later called. Most of the newcomers and the old ones were in the Beaver Creek Cabin. Here they sat around shooting camel shit, for bull shit was unheard of in those days."

"Did they have a special firing range for camel feces?" interrupted Christopher.

"I'm sorry. I'm not sure what they did except make us feel like little kids. Of course, when the activities did occur both groups joined in a very competitive spirit and were out for blood no matter how the teams were arranged. Some of the activities were planned, but others just happened. I think some of the best were ones that broke the barriers and developed new rules as they went along. This was about the time that we developed four-way volleyball as a new twist to an old standby. As you know it is still a Winter Camp favorite."

"John," said Christopher, "I find this to be fascinating. I am sorry I was not able to attend an early Winter Camp. You know this is going to be the most thrilling event of my life!"

John observed at that moment that Charles was nodding in agreement. Perhaps it was an unconscious action, almost a reflex to these odd Scouts as he quickly inquired, "Christopher, where were you born?" Then without pause or thought he started naming the series of prime numbers, "One, two, three, five, seven, eleven, thirteen, ..."

Christopher stood dumfounded and tried to mutter an answer.

John yet to hear an answer from Christopher interrupted his own recitation and turned towards Charles, "What did you get for Christmas?"

Almost immediately Doug Wilson entered the room, obviously having overheard the last question.

"A Johnny Seven One Man Army Gun," said Charles.

Doug interrupted, "Gentlemen it's time to get ready for our first event, The Tower of Babel Olympics."

The Tower of Babel was a project of the pre-camp set up crew and even by Winter Camp standards an impressive achievement. John had elected not to participate in the construction, perhaps having remembered the excessive search for x's supposedly needed for a pioneering project forty camps earlier. Jeff Rand played a key role in both endeavors, although Doug Wilson offered much to the structural engineering for this latest creation.

The tower straddled the road entirely such that two large vehicles could pass under it as if going through a gateway. The main structure stood eighty feet tall with six platform levels above the ground. In true pioneering fashion the only construction materials used were logs and rope. Not all of the joints were lashed, as some were dovetailed. At the base of the first level, marking the entrance gate, a dovetailed sign proclaimed "Welcome to Winter Camp LIV." Predictably the structure leaned in on itself for stability, with each level progressively smaller. However, resting seventy feet above the ground, the sixth level extended out beyond the main supports on all four sides and formed a square of thirty feet on a side. It was only the shear mass below that allowed for stability at this height. Above this highest platform, the crow's nest circled the apex of the tower. Slightly offset from the apex stood the flagpole. The sixth level had a circular hole of about three feet in diameter and the flagpole floated here suspended only by rope. The flagpole extended another 30 feet above the tower making the height of the total structure 110 feet, which exceeded the goal of 100.

Equally significant to the remarkable size of the structure was the method for reaching its various levels. Straddling each side of the road to allow quick access from either the Beaver Creek Building or Clearwater Cabin were two shafts cut into the various platforms. The shafts angled to the highest level and allowed a wooden deck the ability to move between levels. These ingenious elevators worked in harmony with each other. As one reached the highest level the other fell to the ground, thus nearly eliminating the need for any mechanical advantage in raising an empty elevator. Wilson's mechanical design to lift humans and cargo allowed 1,000 pounds to be lifted with a pull of only twenty. All pulleys, including the crank mechanisms, were made entirely of hand-sewn wood.

John and Doug joined the others outside facing the tower as youth chairman Stephan Clark, Jr. described the first event. Clark stood on the first level facing the crowd wearing a babushka, which was the designated attire of the day.

"Winter Campers, welcome to the Tower of Babel. This afternoon we have assembled an exciting array of aerial athletic events. For this activity we will have four teams competing for bragging rights. Now to form the teams, I think we've settled this difficulty once and for all. Each of you will recall that your drinking glass was already filled as you sat down for the Coprophagous Lunch. What you didn't know was that each of the drinks was laced with a special chemical that will cause your tongue to glow when exposed to ultraviolet light. Because the chemical was changed slightly as the glasses were filled, you will observe four distinct colors of tongue."

"This is too much," said Dave Milon. "You mean you fed us some dangerous chemical."

"I assure you not," said Clark and he proceeded to divide the group into teams. Captains were appointed on the basis of the eldest youth member of each team.

"For the first event each captain will chose one representative for the sword fight. I would ask all combatants to proceed to the top level. There you will find two ropes dangling from two opposite sides of the tower. You will wear a seat harness so you can clip onto this rope. You will lower yourself from the platform and dangle about fifteen feet below. The two combatants on each side of the tower will then proceed with the sword fight. The winner will be the first one to cut the support line of his opponent. Now you might want to wear a chest protector and helmet. The swords are quite sharp. Any questions?"

"If my math is right, isn't that about a 55 foot fall?" joked Mark Bollman.

"Not quite. Oh did I fail to mention that you might want to attach a bungy-jump cord to your feet. This will brake you fall a few inches above the ground, providing no one is underneath the tower."

Dickson Mann III representing the Red Tongues and Alex Howey of the Blue were chosen to be the combatants on the side closest Beaver Lake.

"You be careful!" shouted John as if Alex was still a kid rather a mature adult and a father himself.

Dickson and Alex joined the other fighters on the top level. Dickson in his usual reckless fashion quickly installed his harness and lowered himself over the side. Alex was a little more cautious.

"Hey, aren't you forgetting something?" shouted Ron Donohue. "He's gonna poke your eye out with that thing!"

"Oh yeah," said Dickson as he turned to look up at Alex. "Throw me the helmet and protector."

Alex obliged and Dickson nearly flipped over as he reached out to grab the falling equipment. Alex finished installing his safety equipment and placed the bungy cord on his feet. With sword in hand he lowered himself to face Dickson. Apparently no one in the audience noticed that Dickson had failed to connect his bungy cord.

As Stephan gave the command the battle began. It was soon obvious that Alex was the experienced swordsman and Dickson a wild man. Alex faced his opponent with sword upright to protect the rope. Dickson flailed wildly and hit metal with several swipes. His last swing missed and the momentum caused him to swing around his rope. In true swordsman like fashion Alex thrust his sword to stab Dickson. Dickson's protection held, with no damage done. Dickson twisted back to face Alex and began another assault. Again Alex held the blows, but after a dozen he flipped his sword and caught Dickson's stroke such to cause him to lose balance again and twist the other direction. This time, not wanting to press his luck, Alex went right for the rope. With a powerful swing he hit the rope squarely and sliced through it.

From the ground it appeared that the rope had been completely severed, perhaps a thread remained. It was enough, though, and the rope did not break.

Dickson regained his orientation and made a quick swipe at Alex. Alex, thinking himself victorious, was not prepared for the attack, as Dickson cut his rope.

John felt his heart sink as Alex fell with increasing speed towards the ground. This two-second fall was a mental eternity as John experienced a range of emotions greater than in any of his previous experience. In the end it was his deepest thought that brought him to an altered state of consciousness. "This does not make sense!" he thought.

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