Big, Flat Feet
A story for my grandsons
March 29th, 2011
The canoe tied to the top of the car made it seem dark and cozy. It felt like they were camping already and they still hadn’t gotten out of the city. Traffic flowed nosily around them. Big semi-trucks, dusty with summer slowed them down. Shiny sports cars roared impatiently past them. They passed big travel trailers and sometimes motorcycles raced behind them, only to move to the other lane and race ahead. The sun shone on the highway and made everything seem hot. It was hot. The heat waves wobbled off the road and the tops of the buildings they passed. It would be cooler in the woods. The trees would shade the campsite and the lake, just the sound of it would keep them cool.
Joey turned around in his seat. He waved to the car behind them. There was a canoe on that car too. That car was Uncle David’s car. Uncle David and Uncle Matt and Little Uncle Jesse were driving that one. In the front seat of his car was Big Uncle Jesse. Uncle Nate sat in the back seat next to Joey’s brother Ethan. Joey had lots of uncles. He had more uncles than the ones going camping. The others were married and couldn’t come.
Big Uncle Jesse was his Dad’s brother. All the other uncles were his mother’s brothers. When Joey had been learning to talk, Big Uncle Jesse had been bigger than Little Uncle Jesse. Big Uncle Jesse was older but now that Little Uncle Jesse was all grown up he was bigger than Big Uncle Jesse. They liked to laugh about it but those were the names they still called them.
The cars were packed. They were packed full of food. They had sleeping bags and tents and of course paddles and life jackets. The camping trip was a canoeing trip too. They were going to pile every thing in the canoes and paddle the canoes to the campsite. They would canoe all day for almost three days and camp two nights. Joey had complained it was too short. Dad told him to try two nights camping first. It might be that they it was too long. Joey didn’t think it could be.
Emma and Leah and Mom had stayed at home. They went camping all the time as a family but not canoe camping. Mom said no thank you to that. She didn’t want to sleep in the sleeping bag without an air mattress. She also didn’t want to have to go to the bathroom in the woods. Joey and Ethan had laughed at that. Big Uncle Jesse and Dad had said it was sweet to use the woods.
Mom and the girls were going to have a girls night. Joey made a face. He didn’t think that sounded like much fun but Emma and Leah couldn’t wait for them to leave. They stood in the driveway and cheered and waved as they backed into the street. Joey had stuck his head out the window and called, “We are going to have more fun than you.”
Uncle Nate was looking at the map. He showed Joey the rivers and lakes they would canoe across. He showed him the island where they would camp. Joey poked his finger at a spot and asked what those funny lines meant.
“Ha, ha,” Uncle Nate laughed. “That is where we have the most fun of all. That is where we portage.”
“Portage? What does that mean?” Joey screwed up his face. He thought about all the words he knew but he didn’t know that one. Joey was ten and knew a lot. This was new.
“A portage is where you can’t canoe. It is land and you have to carry everything along a path to get to more water.” Daddy told him as he drove. “It means to carry.”
“Everything?” Joey demanded.
“Everything!” Big Uncle Jesse said.
Joey thought of everything they had packed in the two cars. He looked at Ethan and Ethan looked at him. “Well, anyway,” Joey decided “we have lots of Uncles to help!”
Everybody in the car laughed. Joey wondered if he and Ethan would have to carry stuff. “How far do we have to carry it?” He asked.
“Not too far.” Uncle Nate told him. “That’s why we picked this trip. We didn’t want to have to portage too often or too far.” He showed Joey the map again. His finger pointed to the funny lines and Joey saw that there were only two portages. He sighed in relief.
They drove out of the city and into the country, up an into the north woods they went. The trees got thicker and taller. The road still looked hot but the trees waved and pretty soon there were more pine trees than trees with leaves. Uncle Nate fell asleep and even Big Uncle Jesse snored in the front seat. Joey and Ethan read their books and played their DS games. Every now and then he looked back to wave at the uncles in the other car. Sometimes Uncle David waved, sometimes he honked the horn. Once he drove up next to them and Little Uncle Jesse rolled down the window and shouted at them.
The road to the lake was gravel and the dust swirled up and around them as they bumped over the ruts. No one slept through that. Everything looked hot and dirty, even the trees and the grass. But suddenly the camp ground came into view. The lake sparkled blue in the sun. Joey and Ethan bounced up and down on the seat and shouted. Dad blasted a few times on the horn and Uncle Nate rolled down the window and whooped. “Here we come.” In the car behind them Uncle David honked his horn too and Uncle Matt and Little Uncle Jesse waved their arms from the windows.
“It’s like an octopus!”Joey shouted. Uncle David’s car looked funny with all the heads and arms sticking out of the window. He and Ethan laughed and pointed.
There was much to be done. First they had to unload everything and pile it into the canoes. They had brought two and they needed to go to the camp store and rent one more. Carefully they unloaded and made three piles. Big Uncle Jesse and Little Uncle Jesse went to the store while the rest of them worked. They came back with the third canoe. They set it next to the other two and all the uncles and Dad began to argue about what should go in which canoe and who should ride where. Joey and Ethan didn’t listen to them. They ran around the canoe landing and yelled and whooped. They jumped off the rocks and tried to climb the trees. Dad told them to stay close and stay off the road.
Joey and Ethan ran a little way along the path by the lake. They saw a soft sand beach. Just as the path came to the beach, Joey stopped. He pointed to the ground.
“Somebody,” Joey said to Ethan. “Has big, flat feet!” He stooped down and put his finger on the mark. Ethan squatted next to him.
“Who was it Joey?” He asked. Ethan looked from the mark to Joey and back again.
“Don’t know.” Joey told him. Just then Dad yelled. The boys turned and looked. Everyone was waving at them to come. “They ready Ethan. Booja!!” He yelled like Uncle Nate did and went running back to the canoes. Ethan yelled too and ran also.
“We have to spot a car.” Dad said. “Do you want to come along or wait here?”
Joey had to think. Spotting a car meant driving one to the end of the canoe trip. They would need a car to get back again. Going along meant riding some more. He would rather play in the woods. Ethan wanted to do what Joey did. They decided to stay. Dad and Uncle Matt each drove one car. They went back down the dirty bumpy road. The other uncles started to load the canoes.
“Somebody has big, flat feet.” Joey told Uncle Nate. He was helping Uncle Nate. He brought the bundles and bags that Nate pointed too. Ethan was helping Big Uncle Jesse.
“Yea,” Ethan said. “We saw them in the sand.”
“Somebody left their feet behind?” Asked Uncle David. “They must have been bloody.”
The boys laughed. Joey thought about somebody cutting off their feet and walking away on bloody stumps. He thought about a pair of feet just sitting, with no legs on the beach. It made him laugh.
“Not the feet, we saw the foot prints, just the marks on the beach over there.” He pointed.
“No blood then, just prints.” Said Little Uncle Jesse. “That is good. I know I don’t want to meet a big monster with bloody stumps because he left his feet behind.”
“He’d be mad.” Said Uncle Nate. “He’d come after you and say, ‘where are my feet?’ and then he’d pick you up, eat you and throw what was left of you in the lake.” Uncle Nate scooped up Ethan and pretended to eat his tummy. Ethan squealed and screamed.
“You scream like a girl.” Uncle David yelled at him.
Joey laughed and before he knew it, Big Uncle Jesse had picked him up and was making him squeal and scream. “You scream like a girl too!” Little Uncle Jesse said.
The boys kicked and screamed. The uncles took them down by the lake and acted as if they were going to throw them into the water. “One, two, three,” they said together, swinging the boys. Joey and Ethan squealed some more and clutched tightly to the uncles’ shirts.
“Well,”Uncle Nate said, “we’ll let the monster with bloody stumps throw them in. It will be more fun to watch that than to do it now.”
“Yea,” Uncle David said. “The monster with bloody stumps will sneak up from the woods in the night, and while Joey and Ethan are sitting at the campfire he’ll snatch them from behind and run off into the woods.” He made his voice soft and spooky. Ethan’s eyes got big.
“He’s just teasing.” Joey told him and laughed.
It was exciting to be in the canoes and on the lake. Joey rode in the canoe with Uncle Matt and Uncle David. He wore a life jacket and a swimming suit. He had sun screen all over and a hat on his head. Ethan was in the canoe with Dad and Big Uncle Jesse. They all had sun screen and hats too. Uncle Nate said they were all ‘wusses.’ Uncle Nate and Little Uncle Jesse were in a canoe. They wore hats and swimsuits. All the uncles took their shirts off. They sat on the life jackets. Joey could see their shoulder blades as they reached with paddles and stroked through the water.
“Oma won’t like it if you don’t have shirts on.” He yelled as the canoes moved over the lake.
“Well Oma’s not here now is she?” Uncle Nate said and splashed water on Joey. Joey splashed back but he couldn’t get enough to the front where Uncle Nate was to get him wet. In his canoe, Ethan splashed too. He got Dad wet.
“Ethan,” Dad yelled at him. Ethan and Joey laughed and began to splash each other. The sun was shining, the air was warm and the water felt cool. The breeze off the lake was cool too. Joey was happy to be in the canoe.
Ethan and Joey hopped out of the canoes first. They jumped over the side and into the shallow water. It was good to stretch their legs after sitting so long in the canoe. They splashed and stomped and sat down in the water. Dad and the uncles pulled the canoes up to the shore. They stretched and came down to the water too. Pretty soon every one was wet. Joey and Ethan ran out of the water and up to the beach. The uncles were throwing each other in and wrestling in the water. The boys watched.
“Look! LOOK!” Joey yelled to Ethan. “There’s more big, flat, feet!” Their eyes grew big and wide as they looked at each other and at the prints in the dirt. They looked around the campsite. No one else was here. But whoever had big, flat feet had been here.
Joey and Ethan ran down to the water. “The big, flat feet, they are here too.”
“Oh, oh” said Big Uncle Jesse, “better be careful.” This time when he picked up Joey he threw him right into the lake. Joey yelled and squealed and Ethan got thrown in also. They still had their life jackets on and they paddled like dogs in the water. They played in the water until camp was set up and supper was cooking over the fire.
When they wanted a drink they scooped up water and put funny little tablets into it. They waited for a few minutes and shook the bottles. The tablets were to make the water safe to drink. They poured lemon powder into it too. That was to make it taste better. It still tasted funny and Ethan and Joey made faces and shook their heads after they drank. They ate supper squatting around the fire. When they were done they scrubbed their tin plates clean with a pine branch and sand and rinsed them in the lake. After that Dad boiled water and rinsed them again.
They sat around the campfire when it got dark. It took a long time for it to get dark. They were so far north the days were long. Out here the stars were the brightest Joey had ever seen. There were more stars too than he could count. There was a Bible story about that. Joey remembered it from Sunday School. He didn’t try to count he just looked and looked at them all.
Uncle Matt read a devotion, he squinted trying to see the words in the small Bible by the firelight. Joey listened and realized he was reading about Abraham and counting the stars. He wondered how Uncle Matt knew he had been thinking about that. Then they began to sing. They sang hymns. It sounded big and full in the night. The words echoed over the water and into the woods. Joey snuggled next to his Dad, Ethan was on the other side. Joey didn’t know all the words so he just listened. He liked to hear Dad and the uncles sing in the night.
When they went to bed they squished together. Dad was in the middle and Joey and Ethan on either side. The dark was darker in the tent than it was at home. The night was bigger outside of it. Joey could hear the loons calling on the lake and sometimes an owl in the woods. There were skittering noises in the dry leaves and the uncles made footsteps through the campsite. Joey didn’t think he would ever get to sleep but suddenly it was morning.
He poked his dad. “I have to pee.” He said.
On the other side Ethan popped up his head. “I have to pee too.”
Dad groaned. “Just go and be quiet.”
The boys scrambled out of the tent. The morning was grey and everything felt damp. No one else was awake. The lake was still and quiet. A little mist floated over it. It made Joey shiver. The boys hurried into the woods and back into the tent. They crawled over the sleeping bags and stuck their cold and sandy feet on their dad. He did not like it.
“Go back to sleep.” He ordered and turned his face.
Joey and Ethan tried to lie still. They tried to be quiet but there were noises outside and they wanted to see what made them. They crawled to the end of the sleeping bags and lifted the tent flap so they could see outside. They watched the squirrels hopping over the sand. They watched the chipmunks looking for left over food around the campfire. They watched the crows flap and settle and flap again among the tree branches. The watched the sun dry up the mist over the lake.
They kicked their feet on the sleeping bags as they watched. Ethan scooped at the sand outside the tent flap and stirred up some ants. Dad mumbled, “lie still.” They whooped and jumped when something hit the tent.
“Hey,” Uncle Nate called, “It’s time to get going.”
They ate granola for breakfast and apples and drank more of the yucky water. They loaded the canoes and once more paddled away from shore. The sun was already hot and bright, they squinted against it as they went.
Before noon time they came to the portage. They beached the canoes and began to unload. Uncle Matt gave Joey a bundle to carry. It was too big and heavy. His arms could not hold it. Slowly they sank until the bundle was on the ground. “What? You couldn’t carry that?” Uncle Matt teased him. He gave Joey a smaller bundle and one to Ethan. Big Uncle Jesse and Little Uncle Jesse were already following the path over the portage. They each carried a big bundle and had a back pack. Joey and Ethan followed. They trudged over the sand and up a hill. The sun was hot and the insects buzzed around them. Joey wondered when they would get to the end of the portage.
Joey climbed up a hill and down one they went around a curve and up another hill. At the bottom of the hill was the water. This time it was a river. It would be easier to paddle and the canoes would go faster because the current would take them and help the canoes move. The Uncle Jesses had dropped their things by the water. Joey and Ethan dropped theirs too. They flopped down in the sand to rest.
“Can’t stop now.” Big Uncle Jesse said.
“What?” yelled Joey. “We’re here.”
“We are but not everything else is. We have to go back and keep carrying stuff until we have everything.” Big Uncle Jesse told him.
“What?”yelled Joey again. “Even the canoes?”
“Even the canoes.” Little Uncle Jesse said.
“Even the canoes!” Joey flopped over, his hands dangled down and his back looked soft like a rag doll’s. Swinging his arms he began to follow the uncles back over the portage. Ethan walked like Joey did. Soon they started to laugh. Joey staggered over the path like he was going to fall asleep. So did Ethan. At the side of the path, Joey stopped. Ethan bumped into him and they both fell over. “Look, more big, flat, feet.”
“Hey” The boys got up and ran after the uncles. “There’s more, more big, flat feet.” They yelled as they ran on the path. They met the other uncles and Dad. They were carrying the canoes. They had left a pile back at the landing and would be coming back to get it all. Joey yelled to them about the footprints.
“No bloody stump marks?” Uncle Matt asked. His head was under the canoe. They carried the canoes upside down over their heads. His voice sounded funny coming from there.
“You know what.” Uncle David said and his voice sounded funny too. “The feet left the bloody stumps behind them. The feet are running away and the monster is after them, wants to catch them.” He gave a quick glance behind his shoulder but the canoe was in his way and he couldn’t see anything. Joey and Ethan’s eyes got wide.
“That’s not true Uncle David. He couldn’t walk without his feet.” Joey made his voice sound disgusted.
“I don’t know.” Uncle Nate was under a canoe too. “He’s a monster, monsters can do anything.”
“Is he a monster with big ugly warts on his nose, and snot dripping?” Ethan asked.
“Could be.” Uncle Nate told him. “I bet he has big ears with hair sticking out of them.”
The boys scampered down the path and back to the landing. Little Uncle Jesse gave them each something to carry and they hurried off again. Now the boys were between the uncles. There were uncles ahead of them and uncles behind them but they were alone on the path. The sun was bright, they could see the path and into the woods. Joey thought about a monster with bloody stubs instead of feet. He thought about him stomping through the woods, chasing his feet. At first it made Joey want to laugh but then a sharp sound came from the woods. It sounded like someone was stepping on branches, crashing through the underbrush. Joey peered into the woods. There was nothing to see. A crow cawed loudly and flew up from a tree, a blue jay squawked and scolded. Joey ran. Ethan ran with him.
They ate bread and peanut butter and cookies and carrots while they canoed down the river. They scooped more water from the lake and put in more little tablets. Joey made a face before he drank and another afterwards. He shuddered and ate an apple to take away the taste. They were quiet in the afternoon, they kept looking up at the sky, watching for eagles and other birds. They saw cranes and herons and three bald eagles and some hawks. There were lots of little birds too but they couldn’t tell what they were. Joey leaned back against the pile of bundles in the canoes. He watched the uncles and dad as they paddled. The sun was still hot and every little while he splashed some water on his face to cool off.
Joey watched the woods along the river. He couldn’t hear if anything was crashing through them. He couldn’t see anything and he knew the uncles had just been teasing about the monster. He tried not to think about it but the harder he tried not think about the monster the more he did.
The sun was still hot, it burned into him. He could feel it on his shoulders. He could see it as it burned into the backs of the uncles. Their backs were deep brown and shiny from the sun screen. He watched their shoulders blades again and then he watched the sky. The tree tops moved. It looked like they scratched the sky. The tree tops reached up and up and tried to catch the clouds. They tried to snag those white fluffy puffs but the clouds always got past. The tree tops waved as if they were waving to the clouds.
There was a loud spank and water splashed over Joey. He sat up and looked around. Uncle Nate grinned. “You splashed me, Uncle Nate.”
“He splashed me too.” Yelled Ethan. The quiet part of the afternoon was over. The uncles started to talk, sometimes they sang. The song they liked the best was the canoe one. They sang deep and loud on the river.
“My paddles keen and bright flashing with silverFollow the wild goose flight,Dip, dip and swing.Dip, dip and swing them backFlashing with silver,Swift as the wild goose flightDip, dip and swing.”
Joey liked the song. It sounded like what they were doing. It sounded bold and adventuresome. He moved his arms on the ‘dip, dips’ as if he too were swinging a paddle.
When they came to a sand bar they stopped the canoes. Everyone got out and used the sandbar like a beach. The swam and splashed and did exercises to get the cramps out of their legs. They ate cookies and peeled and ate oranges. Joey chased Ethan around the sand bar. Their legs pumped up and down as they ran in circles. They started to get dizzy. They turned and Ethan chased Joey. They forgot to look. If there were any big, flat, feet the running had messed them up and covered them. Finally Joey and Ethan lay down on the sand. It was hot, hot as the air from the sun. They dug deeper and found the cool damp sand underneath. It felt good. It felt good to lie all stretched out and feel the damp cool sand. Too soon it was time to climb back into the canoes.
They all found their places and began to dip, dip and swing again. Now the sun was behind them, they did not need to squint. The current was fast and the canoes went quickly down the river. Before they had time to get hungry again they came to the camping place.
It was early but it was fun to make camp again. Joey and Ethan searched in the woods and brought sticks and dry leaves for the fire. They made a big pile and kept asking if it was enough.
“Get a few more.” Dad said. They brought more.
“Oh, fine some more.” Suggested Uncle Matt. They went further into the woods and found more.
“That’s not enough.” Said Uncle David.
“Really?” Asked Joey.
“Really.” Said Big Uncle Jesse.
This time they went along the beach. Ethan stopped and Joey bumped into him. “Look.” Said Ethan. He was pointing and Joey saw them, the big, flat feet.
“More, more!” The boys screamed, waving their arms as they went back to the camp. “More big, flat feet!”
“Better make the fire big tonight.” Said Uncle Matt. “It will help keep the monster away.”
“The monster with the snot running down his nose and no feet.” Said Little Uncle Jesse.
“Maybe we should put a sign, write it in the sand. ‘We don’t have your big, flat feet.’ Said Uncle David. He began to write in the damp sand by the canoes. The boys screamed and ran in crazy patterns around the campsite.
“No use screaming like girls.” Said Uncle Nate. “Then the monster will find you for sure.” He wacked at a log with the small hatchet. He made deep cuts in the log and jumped on them. The pieces came apart and he piled them by the sticks and leave the boys had found.
“We’d better get more sticks.” Joey told Ethan. “The fire has to be big to keep the monster away.”
“Yea,” Ethan agreed and ran after Joey. “We don’t want a monster with warts and snot running down his nose in our camp!”
The night was dark, dark as it had been last night. Tonight Joey could hear the sound of the current running in the river. It made a different noise than the lapping lake had the night before. There were no loons to hear tonight but he heard the owls and the skittering noises were closer and louder than the night before. Tomorrow when he went to sleep he would be in his own bed. He would be in his room with the dark blue stripe and the picture of the San Francisco ball park. His music would be playing on the night stand and he would be able to see the light from the hallway under his door. Tomorrow, Joey thought as he fell asleep.
In the night the monster tromped through the woods. He rocked from side to side as he searched for his feet. His stumps left trails of blood as he went. He stumbled over branches and used his hands to keep from falling. His eyes were a nasty green with just enough yellow in them to make them glow. His face was yellow too and lumpy with warts. His bright red hair stuck up straight from his head and long stiff pieces grew from his ears. His nose was big, with nostrils that flared and snot ran down to his mouth. Branches snagged at him and he howled with pain when he hit a stick with his stumps. Every time he howled he got madder and his eyes glowed and burned more fiercely than before.
He wanted his feet. He staggered through the night trying to catch up to them. Joey heard him coming, he saw the eyes yellow and mad in the dark, he could hear the stumps and see the holes they left in the ground and smell the old blood that they left also. The snot was thick and the hands were reaching, reaching to pick up the tents and shake them to find the feet that were hiding there.
Joey sat up, he sat straight up in the sleeping bag.
“WE DON”T HAVE YOUR FEET!” He hollered. “DIDN’T ANYONE TEACH YOU HOW TO READ?”
Joey looked around in the dark tent. Ethan was looking at him, Dad was looking at him. The uncles were calling from the other tents. They wanted to know what was wrong. An owl hooted. The moon shone in between the tent flaps.
“Joey what is the problem?” Dad was cranky.
“Did you see him Joey? Did you? The monster?” Ethan asked, his eyes big and wide.
“I did, and I told him we didn’t have his feet. Couldn’t he read the sign in the sand?”
Dad groaned. “Put your head down Joey and Ethan, go to sleep.”
Joey lay down. The monster didn’t scare him anymore. It had all been made up anyway. He lay in the dark and thought about more canoeing tomorrow. They had only one more day left. He was kind of sorry they didn’t have more. Next to him Dad was snoring.
“Dad, Dad,” Ethan hissed. “I have to pee.”
“So do I” Joey said.
“Then just go.” Dad mumbled. Joey could tell he was irritated, but it was night and the woods were dark.
“Not alone, Dad its night.”
“I know,” Dad grumbled, “I know its night.” He gave a heavy sigh and kicked out of his sleeping bag. Joey and Ethan did too. They crawled out of the tent. The moon was bright on the water. Everything was damp and cold on their feet. They ran over to the woods.
“I like this,” Ethan giggled. “It’s sweet to pee in the woods.”
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