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to turn the tree climb into an even greater adventure. Using just his hands (his legs hung useless below him) he'd scooted out to the end of one of the uppermost branches and was hanging like Tarzan in the jungle. I couldn't believe my eyes.

Was the kid nuts?!

Almost as if to answer my silent question, he looked at me, smiled, and proceeded to bounce the branch with the weight of his body. He was a husky kid, and the way the branch was bending, you could tell. Attempting to be the voice of reason, I yelled at him to stop or the branch was going to break. The daredevil's only response was that I was a baby... what could happen?

Gravity is an amazing thing--amazing, mostly because it works, and works well. What could happen? My cousin asked. He soon found out.

As he bounced up and down, hanging from the branch, the indisputable laws of physics quickly came into play. The boy was heavy; the branch was weak. It crackled. It snapped. It broke in half. And, much to Chris' surprise--and my shock--good ol', reliable gravity took over. Helpless, I watched as my cousin dive-bombed earthward. Falling quickly, he was met by every branch that side of the tree had to offer, bouncing him like a pinball in an arcade game. To me, it was no different then watching slow motion on TV as, like a rag doll, he was flung from branch to branch--first hitting his legs, then his arms, then his head.

It was morbidly fascinating.

As a final gift, the tree happily gave of its last, and largest, branch--directly between his legs. Slapstick style, he paused on the branch, then slowly slid headfirst and limp into the cold water below. I had successfully completed beginner's swimming training the year before and I knew I was now witnessing a perfect "dead man's float" as interpreted by my cousin. I screamed.

Oh my God! I thought. He's dead! I'm in trouble now.

I descended quickly, forgetting my fear, only thinking about his lifeless body. I yelled his name. Once. Twice. He didn't respond. Oh no!

I reached the final crotch-killing branch and, before I could leap to the ground, Chris suddenly leaped up out of the water, and ran like a shot up the side of the bank. He stopped, turned around, looked at me, then, breathlessly, he asked:

"Are there snapping turtles in your pond?!"

I was infuriated! The guy had just scared the next ten years out of my body--he had fallen thirty feet from the top of the tree for Pete's sake--and after all that, his only worry was snapping turtles?! I began to call him names; all the great four-letter vocabulary words I had learned from my father as he watched Detroit Tigers baseball games. I asked Chris what the heck he was thinking. Forget the snapping turtles! Didn't he realize he had nearly plummeted to his death? And worse yet, didn't he know that he could have gotten me grounded to my room for life for letting him kill himself?

Well, the mention of punishment must have been the key to bringing him back to sane reality, because he cut me off by asking if my father would be angry that he was wet. I let him know that I honestly thought my father would be a bit more concerned over the fact that Chris had just missed an early grave in our backyard compared to some moist clothes.

That's when I first noticed Chris' injuries.

That old birch tree, the one that had been in our backyard forever, had done quite a fine job of slicing and dicing my cousin. Above his left eye, his eyebrow hung like a furry, black caterpillar from a twig. The only indication that it had previously occupied the entire space above his eye was a small patch of blood where the skin and hair had torn away from his forehead. The rest of his face was covered with a variety of small cuts and scratches, and his lower lip was already beginning to swell. As he looked down to view the rest of his muddy and wet body, I saw a large gash in the top of his head, running perfectly along the part of his hair. Strangely, however, although it was noticeably deep, it was not bleeding very badly, and taking all the wounds into consideration, he was in fairly good shape for someone who had just free fallen from a tall tree.

Again he asked me if I thought my parents would be upset and I told him that they probably wouldn't even notice--that is, as long as we figured out a way to reattach his eyebrow to his forehead. He didn't believe me, and I could tell by the look on his lacerated face that he was hatching a new plan. He was quiet for a few moments... thinking. This was dangerous.

Then he spoke.

The strategy was simple. I was to jump into the pond and get soaked. This way, when we walked into the house, my parents would see two wet boys who had "accidentally" fallen into the pond while engaging in a friendly bout of roughhousing.

Looking back on his idea, I now realize what my cousin really had in mind: if he was going down, then so was I. Little did he know that that would most likely have been the case, regardless if I also returned wet or not. But, being the loyal cousin that I was, I agreed to go along with the plan.

The water was freezing!

As I climbed out of the shallow and frigid murkiness, I thought to myself that I would NEVER EVER again listen to that crazy cousin of mine. He could destroy himself on a daily basis for all I cared. I was going to have no part of it any more.

After using pond muck as glue to refasten his eyebrow, Chris and I slowly began our return journey to my house. We entered the door and were met by my mother. No stranger to the effects scummy pond water has on nice carpet, she immediately sent the both of us straight to the bathroom to remove our wet, stinking clothes and to wash our filthy bodies. So much was her concern for the wellbeing of her house that she was completely ignorant to the fact that Chris looked like he had just gone twelve rounds with Mike Tyson.

And, as for my father?

He never even looked up from the television.





Tom Waltz is a thirty year old native of Clinton, Michigan who now makes his home in San Diego, California. He has a wife and daughter and works for Science Applications International Corporation as an Electronic Commerce Analyst. He is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, having served with the U.S. Marines during the conflict. His short stories have appeared in Mesa Visions, Underworld Magazine, The Harrow Magazine, Alternate Realities Webzine, Purpleprose Magazine, ReggieJackson.com, and will soon be featured at Blue Fiction Magazine and Quantum Muse.

Send correspondence to tom@3ampublishing.com



   
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