My name is Zach. And this is my dream come true through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy named Blake.
My name is Blake, and I like cats. I hope my cats are doing ok at home. I am sure that my mom is taking care of them. Yes, I certainly have nothing to worry about. The cats will be just fine. But I can’t wait to see them and my mom. I really miss her. She is so good at being a mom. She is the only who really understands me. She knows that I like strawberry jelly instead of grape and, somehow, she always fixes me when I am hurt. I hate getting hurt. Some boys like it, but I am not like other boys. No, I prefer to be civilized and read. Why would I hurt myself in a dangerous game when I could read a good story? I like English way better than P.E. I am definitely not like other boys…
“Blake! Get with the rest of the cabin! We are going down to the tribal meeting!” Counselor Cody is always telling me to get with the cabin. At camp, we run around constantly and sometimes I just want to sit and think. As the sun sets, and the first stars come out, I think about my cats. Did you know that the stars are really just places where passed-away cats go? I’m pretty sure it’s true. “Blake! Let’s go!”
“Alllright. I’m coming,” I say as I try to stuff my undone shoelace into the side of my shoe. There is no time to tie my shoes tonight. Normally, girls are the last to get everywhere. But tonight, there are no girls, so I am last. No girls, as it turns out, makes things more irritating. We had to play a game that I’m pretty sure was meant to get us hurt, because we just chased each other around and threw balls at each other. Not to mention, we had to eat with our hands. My hands were sticky and sweaty and dirty and it got all over my dinner roll. Plus, girls are always nicer to me than boys. They don’t make fun of me for being bad at sports.
I hear yelling as I approach a fire that shines brightly as the sun has set quickly. A few counselors I recognize, like Zach, are pacing back and forth and throwing steak at each other. They are talking in strange voices, but I might be able to understand them if the stupid, loud boys would shut up. They don’t seem happy, though. At one point, one of them yells that the Romans are going to take all of our candy. This seems to get everybody’s attention, and when Zach yelled really loud, “Are we gonna let ‘em take our candy?!” everyone yelled back “No!”
Then everyone started running back to the cabin, so I tried to keep up, but they always push me aside. When I get back, everyone is changing into dark clothes. “A sneak-out?” I ask Zach, but he says no. He says we are going to battle. Immediately, I say I don’t want to. Zach says there is no getting out of this battle. That either we go to the Romans or they come to us. I think we could run away, but I know that this won’t work, not with the whole cabin already changing. I run into the cabin and put on my pair of blue jeans. It is hot, but if I am going to get hit with something, these may help it hurt less. And they are dark, so maybe I can hide.
I am caught up in a motion towards Counselor Bryan, who is painting everybody’s face. I think that it looks gross. I argue against it, but end up with a couple of dots on my cheeks. And then come the swords. All of a sudden, it seems like everybody has a sword except for me. I quickly grab the last, shortest one that is kind of crooked. It is heavier than I thought, though. My first inclination is to chop off the boy’s head who made fun of me for crying about a scrape on my knee. We will see how he likes his scrape. But before I can, Zach, who is now holding a really big sword, yells in a booming voice that “anybody who hits a fellow cabin mate will have his sword taken away immediately.” Everyone listens… This doesn’t happen that often, so this must be serious. And strangely, I stand in silence, with the rest of the boys, waiting for what is next.
We file into ranks. “4x4! Get in lines and rows of four!” Our entire cabin, with the younger boys from cabin four, is merging into perfect lines. Large, strong hands move us into place. Loud voices direct us into silence and order. I have seen movies. I know that the front people are the bravest, so I go to the very back of the group. Every other boy is 100% focused on Zach, who is apparently the leader. I still have questions.
“What if we get hurt? Do the Romans have weapons too? Are they mean? Will I get hurt?” My voice has a tremble in it yet Zach clearly hears it.
“Blake, you will have to rely on your bravery. They do have weapons, but so do we! You will all have to be brave and strong. Listen to my orders carefully and we will all be ok!” But I don’t have bravery, I think to myself…
The next moments transcend our boyhood. We are marching. I have no choice but to keep step. For the first time, I have no desire but to keep step. I am breathing quickly. The only sound you can hear as we march past the cabin is the crunch of parched ground under out feet and the allegro tempo of my beating heart pulsating out of my ear drums. Echoes of “HA-OOH! HA-OOH!” resound off of the canyon walls. For once, every boy in singing hills responds to one voice, one call. Every boy is in step, in sync.
“Left, left, left, right, left!... HA-OOH! HA-OOH!” Zach rips the still air with his primal call that begs for response. The call is answered faithfully, like the swarm of a hundred locusts drowning the dry hill country: “HA-OOH! HA-OOH!” In unison, jabs of swords pierce the night sky with a sharpness that made me think that our weapons were more than PVC covered with foam. In these moments, I was swept up into a mob-like determination. No one cared about why we were going to battle anymore. We just were. I’m not a camper anymore. I’m a soldier. And this is real.
One by one, the lights illuminating the path clicked off, concealing the continuous roar of Jacks and Piggys under a cloak of darkness. The darkness is scary, but confidence returned in the cry for steady march toward the river. Descending the steps, terror grasped a hold of my lungs at the first battle shriek of the enemy. It held tight for as long as I could remember. Lurking somewhere down there, in the sparse glint of moonlight off the trickling river below the dam, they lied in wait. I was bringing up the rear, and at this point, Zach was right beside me. Saving the best for last, he told me. There was a glint in his eye that made him appear truthful. But he was merely being kind, of course. He probably didn’t even know it was me standing beside him. I was last because everyone, including myself, knew that the bad guys would be done with by the time I got there. When I first got in line, that is exactly how I wanted it. That is how I had always wanted it. To stay out of harm’s way. To let others protect me. But now-
-There was no time to think. No time to run. No time to question. Out of darkness, a praetorian wielding a 5-foot warhammer sprung up for the depths of river. Like a wrecking ball hitting a piñata, soldiers in front me were dispatched into the grave of the river with ease. They would struggle to climb back onto the rock path way, but the clasp of the sticky mud and the threat of the swinging warhammer held them down. One by one, two by two, and three by three, they fell. Zach charged but even he could only deflect the mighty warhammer of the praetorian. Then, my eyes locked with his. His eyes struck my innermost being. “What are you made of, Blake? Run, Blake. Or fall.” I was done running.
It’s hard for me to explain what happened next. I don’t know why he did it but he did. There was a fire in his eyes I had never seen before and have never seen since. But with a screech that only one boy could make in this entire camp, Blake charged from behind me like his life depended on it. Maybe it did. He swung his oblong sword in no particular direction and for whatever reason, and I guarantee there was a reason, the warhammer did not strike him. Blake, with all of his might, struck down the praetorian. And then didn’t stop beating that praetorian until I wrestled him away 5 strikes later.
Everyone started chanting my name. “Blake! Blake! Blake!” I had done it. And everybody else couldn’t. I was last. Like always. I was the best. For once.
The rest of the battle is less important for Blake. We managed to get to the next checkpoint, and, of course, we defeated Caesar. He was taken down after the last of his guards were lying in the wet-with-water and water-balloon-plastic ground. Blake threw a couple more water balloons. This time, he was in the front. He didn’t stop talking about the warhammer praetorian until he left camp about a week later. Over the course of the previous week, Blake had been really homesick and wanted to go home early. So, naturally, his mom picked him up last in our cabin. As I gave him one last hug, he conceded that it was alright he had been picked up late. As he was about to run towards his loving mother, said in a giddy voice: “Best for last.”