There's nothing like earning the respect of a ninth grader, even if it means doing something courageously stupid. Fall season had fell over Jessamine county and usually that meant the Invasion of the Scarecrows Festival. It began as a bucolic tourist trap our town "borrowed" from the good people of Scottville, Kentucky. It stuck so long it became tradition. Every year businesses hung benign yet flamboyantly branded scarecrows from High Bridge--a 19th century railroad connecting either side of the Kentucky river. However, all that mattered to those of us under fifteen was the "Spitwalk contest".
"You're not really gonna do this are ya, Sam?" A dark haired kid said. Sam's expression remained elusive as he walked 'round back Oakley's Corner. Sam's life had gone sideways ever since his father left. He became a "cause without a rebel." Nothing about him exuded lackluster. He stood spigot high with round specs and glassy blonde hair.
"Everyone knows Spitwalk ain't nothin' but a marathon for the bravest deadbeats of Jessamine. 'Member Ray K. Royal? The genius behind Spitwalk? Spitballed each scarecrow until he reached the last. He hocked up a luger while leaping to the next girder and went kersplat or kerplunk, can't recall which... In either case, he was never seen or heard from again, "said the kid.
Sam noticed Cole Oakley standing behind Oakley's commissary where a few other kids gathered. He was average sized and slumped over like a sassafras.
"Toole. Greenwald. Eisenberg," Cole said. His eyes scanned over the nodding heads and noticed half-raised hand.
"McClatchy?" Cole asked."Sam? Sam 'Scram' McClatchy? Well, I'll be."
Sam stood there quietly thumbing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
"Figures. You weren't ever much for conversation. H'aint nothin'gonna change the fact ya daddy's a law skirtin' coward. What makes you think I'd let ya in?"
Sam whispered, "Cause you want to see me fail?"
"Fair enough." Cole replied. "We meet at High Bridge 10 o' clock. Tattlers will be busted by yours truly." Cole shouldered his way past Sam forcing him into a wobble. As the crowd dispersed, Eisenberg walked up to the scrawny kid and prodded, "Do you really think you're goin' spitball all them scarecrows?"
"Face it McClatchy, you just ain't got it in ya," Eisenberg said.
Sam slid into his house. He didn't bother to call for his mother cause she already told him she'd be working two extra shifts. There wasn't anything in this state she loved more than her boy Sam, but someone had to pay the mortgage. He sat his backpack onto of the kitchen table and grabbed a bag of plastic straws his mom left for him, course she didn't know what for.
He sucked in his cheeks to draw up saliva while he tore off little blue squares from the napkins. He picked up a handful, swished them in his mouth, and loaded his straw. Everything became swirly and then he was out. Sam lifted his head off the kitchen table. With little blue squares stamped to his forehead, he looked at the clock.
He gasped, "9:45!"
He grabbed two straws off the table and sprinted out the door. His cheeks went blue as he pushed through the autumn chill. He saw Eisenberg up in the distance, climbing down a steep ravine to get to girders at the bottom of High Bridge. Sam took a quick turn and slid all the way down. All six scarecrows hung from the steel girders.
"Toole and Greenwald are no shows, huh? Well, I'm first, then Eisenberg, then Scram. The first one to the end wins Spitwalk." Cole proclaimed.
Cole waved his right hand to signal to Eisenberg, with his left, he loaded his straw. He ripped a piece of tissue from his front pocket, balled it up between his index and thumb, and jammed it into the straw. The first spit victim was Joe's Burgers. Cole's ball flew right in between his eyes. A mischievous grin ran across Cole's face as he hopped to the next girder.
Eisenberg leapt on next and then signaled to Sam. Sam shot Joe's scarecrow while Eisenberg readied his straw. Perfect hit. Sam leapt again over and took another shot at Wash n' Go's, then five others until he noticed Cole one scarecrow ahead. As Sam leapt, Cole elbowed him in the gut.
Sam wobbled clasping onto the girder. His shirt billowed away from his chest and a loaded straw slipped out of his hand. The mighty Kentucky river raged 275 feet below, and above him a train could come any second. Ray K. Royal went up or down, no one knows for certain.
"Looks like it's just you and me Scram." Cole said. Sam glanced back for Eisenberg; he split. Sam had one more straw left, half-full. The last scarecrow was Oakley's Corner, Cole's dad.
"What you gonna do Scram? Turn-tail?" Cole said. Sam inhaled an icy breath and hurled in one last attempt to get to the girder before Cole. The two boys collided bodies before slipping between girders. Sam straddled himself lengthwise while Cole clung chest high, legs dangling.
"It's over Sam pull me up." Cole said. "Fine, you win."
"What makes you think I ever wanted to win?" Sam said without a skip in his breath. A train roared in the distance.
"I could let you fall and no one would know, and no one would hear you scream," Sam said staring into Cole's eyes.
"Goddamit! Just tell me what you want Sam and pull me up!" Cole screamed as the train rattled across the bridge.
"You may think you're somethin' cause you pull stupid stunts like this, but I'm out here because I wanted to set it straight--don't screw with the McClatchys." Sam said once again pushing his round lenses up his nose.
He pulled Cole off the girder and they both leapt safely to the other side. Sam looked forward to the spring, as he had a feeling things would start looking up.