Today‚s light rain was followed by a horde of mosquitoes.
"Mr. Lawrence!" eight-year old James shouted. "I need more insect juice! Hurry up, I‚m getting eaten alive." Pesky deer flies took turns munching on the boy.
The man rushed through the alders like a partridge exploding from the base of a Spruce tree. It was early June about 11 am.
‚Close your eyes and mouth,‚ he said. ‚This stuff really stings.‚ He carefully sprayed the boy‚s hands and neck. Shirt and pants were last. ‚Just in case they try to drill through your clothes,‚ the man said, trying to make a little joke.
The boy wasn‚t laughing. ‚These bites are itchy,‚ he said. Rubber boots, jeans and a long sleeved shirt made him hot and sweaty.
James looked around at unfamiliar surroundings. Right now, it seemed like hostile territory. Scotch thistles tried to tear skin from his hands. Horseflies continued to buzz around his head. Surely the insects had taken most of his blood by now. What next?
He really didn‚t want to come today. He was getting tired of people feeling sorry for him, just because dad died two months ago.
‚It will be good for you,‚ mom had said. ‚You never want to go anywhere anymore. Here‚s your chance to go fishing with someone I know. Now scoot.‚
‚We‚ll have a good adventure together,‚ Mr. Lawrence promised. The man was also one of the boy‚s Truro Daily News customers. He was chubby, almost bald, but a good tipper.
James followed on the trail, and a twig smacked across his nose. Then he lost his balance and fell onto the grass. Great, now his pants were all wet.
‚Early morning dew is never dry,‚ Mr. Lawrence said.
He thinks that‚s funny? James thought. He was a smart boy for almost nine, but not enough to figure out a good excuse to stay home. James missed his computer games already.
‚COMMMING?‚ The sound of a voice carried from below the hill. It drifted upwards then pounced on James.
He crept to the edge of a rock shelf and saw his neighbor twenty feet below. ‚Does he think I‚m a mountain goat? Or a fly?‚ he mumbled to himself. Mr. Lawrence must have parachuted or jumped. ‚No way, not me!‚ he shouted.
‚It‚s not that bad,‚ the man said. ‚Come on. I‚ll help‚if you‚re afraid.‚
‚Who says I‚m afraid?‚ the boy shot back.
But, he was afraid, remembering the time he fell off a ladder. Dad said to wait, but James didn‚t. He learned the hard way sometimes you have to listen. His behind felt sore just thinking about that day.
‚I‚m sorry, I didn‚t mean that!‚ the man yelled up.
‚Okay‚Okay! I‚m coming!‚ James hollered back.
Mr. Lawrence came part way up and helped James down. The steep slope came right to the edge of the Debert River. It was still a magnificent view, even from down here, James thought. Rocky cliffs followed the current as far as the eye could see.
‚Speckled trout in all those waterfalls too,‚ Mr. Lawrence said.
‚Why do people catch fish anyway?‚ James huffed. ‚They‚re so stinky.‚
The man overlooked the boy‚s comments. He wasn‚t going to allow the peaceful spell of the outdoors to be spoiled.
‚Well?‚ James was being ignored and he didn‚t like it. Not one little bit. ‚All I can see is a lot of bush and rock,‚ he added.
‚This place is magic,‚ the man answered. ‚You‚ll see. Something tells me you‚re never going to forget this trip.‚
‚Sure. Like, I‚m going to meet a pirate, or something. I want to sit right here and not move. You can‚t make me fish. Keep your old worms. Why did you bring me here anyway?‚
‚You agreed to come,‚ Mr. Lawrence said quietly.
‚Well, I changed my mind,‚ the boy snapped. ‚Besides, it was my mom‚s idea. Hey, what‚s wrong with this guy? He wondered. He‚s still smiling, even after all the mean things James had said. He knew Mr. Lawrence was just trying to be nice.
‚I‚m sorry for being so mean,‚ the boy said.
‚Jumping jackrabbits!‚ This was the second time he had apologized. If mom were here, she would have fainted. His blond hair blew lazily in the wind. It should be his dad taking him fishing, not this stranger.
The man slowly answered, ‚I accept your apology. Now, I hope you‚re old enough to listen and stay put. First, I want to show you how to cast with this spare outfit I brought. Let‚s get some practice, in case you decide to try later on your own.‚
James thought his neighbor sounded just like dad.
‚A person could get lost if they wandered around, since this area‚s full of lakes and streams. ‚I‚ll be up ahead on the river. If you need me for anything, give a yell. OK?‚
‚Okay,‚ James said, and later watched Mr. Lawrence move upstream, casting with his fishing rod.
His African Safari hat brim kept blowing up and down in the wind.
"Now I'm all by myself," James said out loud. "And the fish in this spot are mine." His echoes hurried through the valley. "ALL MINE...ALL MINE," they said. What should he do first? James looked at the river. ‚A Magic place,‚ the man had said. ‚Aha,‚ the boy exclaimed, spotting flat stones just under the water.
‚KERPLUNK!‚ as his rock skipped four times. Not bad, first try. Others went skittering in the distance while several landed on the opposite shore. After wrist-shooting 25 flat stones his arm was tired. And he was bored.
James watched a crow sweep upwards to a crevice in the cliff. Must be almost a hundred feet up, he figured. The river was full of little waterfalls and the current bumped into and scraped over different sized boulders. It was fun watching a few large branches coasting on top of the rushing water. He pretended they were ships exploring the unknown.
A squirrel raced along the bank towards him. The nervous animal stopped suddenly, tearing off in a new direction. Why was it afraid? James wouldn‚t hurt the cute little animal.
In fact, he was the one who was usually afraid. ‚Of his shadow,‚ chums at school often said. He didn‚t like to swim in water over his head. Or climb high places. Nor even hike in the wild woods. Yet, here he was.
The boy wondered if mom told Mr. Lawrence about his fears. Would she be proud of him if she knew her son was sitting by himself in the deep forest? He was pleased Mr. Lawrence trusted him. There didn‚t appear to be any danger, since the river was quite shallow here.
James decided he might as well have a little fun by trying out his borrowed fishing rod. He pushed his worm closer to the end of the hook the way Mr. Lawrence had shown him. Placing his thumb on the fishing reel control button, he swung his arm towards the pool of water.
Just as he finished his swing he lifted his thumb. "WOWIE!" he said. ‚This is fun.‚
However, each cast seemed to have a mind of its own. Several got caught in the weeds, with one ending up on a tree branch overhead. Then a huge fish managed to spit the lure out.
He wondered if Mr. Lawrence had caught any downstream, or how long he‚d be. And whether his neighbor liked James, especially after the way the boy behaved. It took James about six tries. But his hook and worm finally landed in the right spot. And a ‚lunker‚ snatched it. ‚YAYYY! I got one!!"
Excited yells smacked against the trees, and hurried across the river. His echo even traveled through the narrow valley, returning like a boomerang. James raised his fishing rod just as Mr. Lawrence had instructed. Finally the struggling brook trout swung through the air towards him, landing with a loud plop on the grass.
It jumped around a bit, before James grabbed it firmly. The boy‚s blue eyes squeezed shut with excitement. His thoughts thanked the river for giving up such a neat fish. My first one," he said after his arm waving ended. All this activity called for a break. Feeling sleepy, he sat down.
He lay his head on the nearest soft rock, eyes barely able to stay open. The sun felt warm and comfortable. Like mom made him feel when giving him a goodnight kiss on the cheek. James also thought about dad. He missed him so much. He wished he were right here beside his son. And seeing the fish the boy caught.
It didn‚t seem fair. He remembered the beautiful flower arrangements at dad‚s funeral, and how hard he hung onto his mother‚s hand. James was the new man of the house and knew he had to make his dad proud of him. Time seemed to stand still as pleasant images of his family swept through the young boy‚s memories.
Suddenly, he shook himself awake and opened his eyes. What he dreamed about was certainly wonderful. He now felt rested. As his eyes began to focus he noticed someone standing over him.
"AVVAST‚ a strangely accented voice said.
‚I beg your pardon?‚ James asked, jumping to his feet.
‚What manner of contraption were ye flinging into yonder stream?"
James saw a boy older than himself. He was perhaps eleven or twelve years of age. And he wore a wide brimmed hat with a loose fitting shirt. Baggy brown pants covered thick legs barely past his kneecaps. A red cape covered his shoulders and he wore sandals.
"Who‚who are you?‚ James dared to ask.
By now he was trying to stand without quivering, and staring. Where did this stranger come from? James wondered.
"I be Nathan," the stranger replied.
"You look like some sort of pirate," James said jokingly.
"That I am," Nathan answered.
"Surprised, lad? I take to these fearsome woods as you do. We come often to this out of the way place, for respite. Now my mates are upstream a bit, beyond a huge marsh. It leads into a lake where our ‚Sea Rover‚ is moored."
‚Aye, that it is. Ye might call it a pirate ship.‚
James‚ mouth stretched wide. His eyes followed where the pirate boy pointed upstream on the Debert River, disappearing around a wide bend. ‚You mean a ship is over there? A pirate ship?‚
‚Aye. Did ye expect me to drop from the sky into this horrible land of insects?‚
‚They bother you too?‚ James asked.
‚Methinks they carry long spears that strike all parts of the body.‚
And both boys laughed.
‚Might I ask lad, what manner of clothing is that?" The pirate boy nodded at James. "Your head covering is also strange."
‚These are called jeans,‚ James said, slapping at his legs. And this is a Blue Jay baseball cap.‚ James continued to stare bug-eyed at Nathan.
‚And this is a hiking jacket Mr. Lawrence made me bring. He‚s my neighbor who went fishing around that bend,‚ he said. His pointing was where the pirate ship also waited.
‚He‚s walking about in this swirl of baking sun? And fending off these heathen insects?‚ Nathan asked.
‚Yes. But he put some stuff on.‚
‚Stuff?‚ the Pirate boy asked.
‚Yes, it stops the mosquitoes from munching arms and legs.‚
‚Munching you say?‚
‚Yes, you know‚digging into skin, to get your BLOODD.‚ And James gave the best imitation he could of Count Dracula.
Nathan backed up a step and lifted his cape. A short, curved sword hung on his hip. He looked at the serious look on James‚ face then began to laugh. ‚You‚re a funny lad,‚ he said.
‚Too bad the kids at school can‚t see me now,‚ said the younger boy. You could be my school chum. They pick on me just because I‚m not very big. You could even show them your sword‚‚
‚It‚s a cutlass, lad. I‚m thankful ye aren‚t afraid of me,‚ Nathan said, ‚That‚s meaning something.‚
"You're really a pirate?" James asked again.
"Aye. I am that. Call me a Buccaneer, if you will." And the boy pounded on his chest. ‚It‚s the same meanin‚.‚
"You promise you won't hurt me?" James asked.
"Not a little tyke like you," the boy said. ‚Besides, I know you are a brave lad. None others of our age are on the ship. It is not a liking I have for being the only young one aboard.‚
‚How did you get on a pirate ship?‚ James asked, fascinated with his new friend.
"Enough chatter. I must be off."
‚Wait, pirate boy‚I mean Buccaneer!‚ James said. ‚Your cape and pants are really neat.‚
‚Thank you lad.‚
‚Show me your ship, okay?‚
‚No time, lad. It‚s a walk beyond yonder ridge. And it rests lazily aside a bay of water that awaits me.‚
‚Stay just a bit longer,‚ James said. ‚Please.‚ Then he showed the pirate boy how to cast the same way Mr. Lawrence showed him. Nathan even caught a speckled trout. ‚Now you know what a fishing rod does,‚ James said.
They skipped rocks together and James let his new friend win. Nathan talked about life on a ship.
‚My duties are to attend the Captain. To bring him hot biscuits and soup, from the cook. Often I see his maps, and once an open chest filled with doubloons. To while away some free time, he lets me play with Spanish silver coins he calls pieces of eight.‚
‚Doubloons?‚ James asked.
‚Aye, his golden treasure. And in his room are many books. I canno‚ read, so they hold no interest for me.‚
Both boys spent time sharing stories. Nathan held James‚ attention with tales he heard from other pirates. They were about fearsome men like John Bartholomew and Calico Jack. James was amazed to hear there was even a lady pirate, called Mary Read.
The younger boy was interested in hearing much more. But a booming sound bounced off the nearby rocky walls and slammed into their ears. ‚What was that?‚ James asked.
‚A cannon signal for me,‚ James‚ new friend answered. ‚I must return with haste. The Jolly Roger will soon run up the flagpole, meaning we are to set sail for the high seas.‚
‚Will I ever see you again?‚ James asked.
‚Aye, lad. Methinks you will.‚ Nathan stepped forward and clasped his hands on each of James‚ shoulders. ‚A sign of friendship, lad.‚
‚I won‚t forget you, either.‚
‚Ta-Rah‚ was a farewell from the other boy. Then he was gone.
It reminded James about two loons he had observed one day on Mattatall Lake. After the pair of them sang their musical notes, they suddenly disappeared below the surface. But he did see them again. In this case, Nathan had stepped through heavy brush and vanished.
James sat on the ground and shook his head. Maybe it was the heat, he thought. Or had he been dreaming? It wasn‚t long before James heard a rustling from bushes. He jumped up quickly wondering if Nathan had returned. But it was Mr. Lawrence, and at first the boy was disappointed.
"Any more luck?" Mr. Lawrence asked. ‚I heard you screaming about catching one a while back. That‚s great! Hey, did you hear that loud thunder?‚
"Nope.‚ Should James tell Mr. Lawrence about the cannon signal for Nathan? At school everybody said James made up stories. Would Mr. Lawrence believe him, if he told about Nathan? "Guess what...?" James began.
"What?" Mr. Lawrence noticed the boy‚s serious expression. Then came over and sat down beside him. "What's up chum? Something on your mind?"
James decided to tell him everything. The boy was so talkative he didn't even notice the deer flies. Nor even the mosquitoes. Only that today had been an adventure of a lifetime. Mom was right. He sure was having fun. Being one of the smartest kids in grade three, he did see questions in Mr. Lawrence‚s face. What was the man thinking?
"I know you‚re a brave boy. And I trusted you to be alone by yourself for a little while."
"Thanks, Mr. Lawrence. I'm really glad you wanted me to come fishing."
His mom‚s friend placed his hand under James chin and lifted it. The boy‚s eyes were blue, like the sky. They were clear like fresh water. Bug bites were scattered all over his forehead and neck. And his blond hair was scrunched with sweat.
"You like to read a lot, don't you?" Mr. Lawrence asked.
"Yes, a lot." James answered, ‚especially Chapter books."
"Do you like stories about pirates?" Mr. Lawrence continued.
‚My favorite stories," James answered.
"I believe your story. Only next time, please call me. I'd like to meet this pirate friend of yours."
‚His name is Nathan, Mr. Lawrence. ‚He prefers to be called a Buccaneer.‚ James‚ smile was huge, almost cracking his lips. ‚He believed me,‚ the boy whispered. ‚Somebody finally believes me.‚
‚Want to try some exploring?‚ the man asked.
‚Sure,‚ James said eagerly. ‚Let‚s go that way,‚ hoping they might get a glimpse of Nathan.
Adult and child sloshed through the river‚s edge in their sneakers. James couldn‚t believe how ‚cool‚ this was. It didn‚t bother him to get his jeans soaked. The bug juice Mr. Lawrence gave him actually kept the bugs away. ‚This is fun,‚ James said as he took the lead.
Before too long their tired legs gave up. James figured his buccaneer friend must be long gone by now. As they sat and rested, James listened to tales of camping and fishing, even hiking adventures, like this one. He absorbed stories of animals in the forest and why they should be respected and protected. Mr. Lawrence had many experiences to share.
James suddenly gasped. As he turned, a white tail deer leaped over some driftwood. The animal showed off its beauty, as it soared through the air. The afternoon moved along, leaving James quite relaxed. He did not feel angry anymore. Maybe this was a magical place as Mr. Lawrence said.
‚Ready to go back?‚ the man asked.
‚Okay if I sit for a couple more minutes?‚ James asked. He watched Mr. Lawrence walk a short distance away, giving him some privacy. He saw how easily the man cast his fishing line.
James decided he would like to be more like Mr. Lawrence. It was time for him to go places and have fun with friends. And not worry so much about always getting straight A‚s in school, nor being the fastest runner to escape the bullies.
He knew he could be brave like Nathan. One day he‚d even learn to cast like Mr. Lawrence. And try to swim too. It would be great not to be afraid anymore. Mr. Lawrence might even help him. ‚HEEYYY, wait for me!‚
James surprised himself as words hurtled from his mouth. It felt good running through the shallow part of the river. Water burst in all directions like a broken fire hydrant. He was laughing and waving his arms.
Just before reaching the waiting man, something made him stop. And turn. Looking back towards the sun, he could sense someone watching. He knew it was his dad. And he was smiling.
* * *
¬ Richard & Esther Provencher
All messages for Richard or Esther can be sent directly to: email@example.com. They enjoy reading comments on their work. Readers are welcome to visit their website at: www.wsprog.com/rp/. Free downloads also available. They live in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. Many blessings on your loved ones.