The Battle at Victor’s Barn
I must’ve been seven or eight when old Mrs.Twombly’s husband died. She held an open house to sell some of the stuff she no longer wanted. Sort of a in-house yard sale. She had a table set up in her living room with glassware, dishes, and bric-a-brac displayed with little pieces of paper with prices on them. Some of her husband’s clothes were laid out on a side table. Most of the gang was there—Steve, Red, Chubbs, the two brothers Caleb and Cressy, maybe Speedy. Somewhere I’d come across a thick rubber band. I had it in my hand, and now and then I’d snap it for no good reason. Then I spied a paperclip on the table. Bingo! It was like a National Geographic moment when the monkey sees the step-stool and the hanging fruit and puts it all together. I now had a dandy slingshot. At that point I should have gone outside and terrorized the squirrel population, but fate intervened.
Victor Poirior strolled by. He was the kid who lived at the end of our block in the white house with the big barn, but hung out with a bunch of younger kids from Pleasant Street. We didn’t know why he chose his friends from two blocks away instead of us who lived just down the street, so we took it as an insult and treated him as an outsider. None of us liked him.
He saw me fiddling with my Rube Goldberg sling shot and gave me a smirky, superior look as though he’s slumming and we should all appreciate his mere presence. I aimed my slingshot, all licked and loaded with the paperclip, and aimed it at him as sort of a joke threat. There was no malicious intent, I swear.
Victor flipped me the bird in response and sneered, “I dare you.”
So I did. It was an automatic response without thought. Those words to a kid—I dare you—are like the red cape to the bull. He doesn’t think about the options, he just charges. Similarly, my actions were purely reflexive, not a scintilla of cognition between the stimulus and the response. Got him just under the left eye. He ran home bawling, and we ran out of the house before any of the adults could get involved.
A few weeks prior to this incident, the field across the street was sold. The buyer, a Mr. Otto, planned on building a house on the site. A backhoe had spent the last few days digging the cellar hole. I guess it was about eight or nine feet deep. So a few days after my altercation with Victor, Steve and I were examining the hole. We were standing right at the edge of it, appreciating the depth, the straightness of the sides, when suddenly something rammed into my back, sending me flying face first in the hole. I landed on my face. That was the first time I broke my nose. I remember crying. Had dirt in my eyes, dirt and snot in my nose and mouth. So many tears I could hardly see. Luckily there was a graded ramp at the far end where they were going to put in a bulkhead, so Steve was able to half-carry me out, elsewise I’d still be in there.
Steve told me later it was that little weasel, Victor. He saw the little puke running away. When I told Red about it a few days later, he was furious. He even threatened to go to Victor’s house, drag him out, and sit on his head until the cops came. While that didn’t happen, it didn’t end there.
A few weeks later we were all down by the little stream below the city horse barns. I think we’d just been to Ma Burgess’s store to buy penny candy and pea shooters. Somebody, probably Chubbs, would throw a stick in the water and we’d try to hit it with our pea shooters.
I was sitting on a boulder by the stream’s edge when suddenly a large rock landed in the water a foot away, splashing me. Then another rock clattered off my boulder, and then another.
Red yelled, “Look out! It’s that turd Victor and his tribe. They’re behind those bushes there.” He pointed to a thicket on the other side of the brook. “Charge ’em!” He jumped in the stream and landed crotch deep. The stream was deeper and the current faster than he thought, and he got swept off his feet. Poor Red splashed and thrashed trying in vain to get his feet under him.
Victor seeing the opportunity, yelled to his tribe of fellow turds, “Get the redhead. He’s the closest. Bean him before he drowns.” His gang changed targets from me to Red.
Red, seeing rocks splashing near him turned back toward us and tried to swim, but by this time the current had carried him twenty feet downstream where, by luck, the stream was broader and shallow. He managed to stand up, scrabble to shore, and run back to us.
We exchanged a few more volleys of stones with Victor’s minions, and then we ran out of stuff to throw. However, Victor had planned ahead and had stocked up stones. Two pails of them lay at their feet. Nobody had been hit yet, but I figured that wouldn’t last. I yelled to the gang, “Let’s get out of here. We’ll deal with them later.”
We started to run back to Pine Street when Red said, “Where’s Chubbs?”
There was no Chubbs in sight.
* * *
We stopped running when we got back on Pine Street and discovered Chubbs sitting under the maple tree in front of Bobby Sanderson’s house waiting for us. Turned out he’d turned tail and ran as soon as the rocks started flying. He got there long before we did.
Red said, “Glad you made it back okay, Chubbs. I was afraid you might’ve tripped and fallen down and skinned a knee or something.”
“Give me a break,” replied Chubbs. “You all know I can’t fight worth a darn, and I can’t hit anything I aim at. If I stayed, you guys would just wind up having to rescue me. So, I actually did you guys a favor by leaving.” Chubbs shifted on his feet and shrugged in a helpless gesture.
Slapping Chubbs on the back, Red said, “I know you can’t fight worth a crap, buddy, but we coulda used you anyway.” Looking around, Red said to us, “Well, what now? Victor will show up on the street in a little while. We can’t just be just standing here.”
I spoke up. “I’m pissed off at Victor for pushing me in the cellar hole and doubly pissed off he carried it a step farther by ambushing us. I say we turn the tables and trap ’em right back as soon as they show up.”
My suggestion was met by cries of: “Yeah, let’s get ’em;” “We’ll show ’em who rules Pine Street;” “We’ll kill the busturds;” and similar threats of dire retribution. The energy expressed by our little band of righteous hooligans was a heady brew of mob rule.
Someone said, “When they come back, they’ll see us and just go in Victor’s house. We can’t attack him in his house. His mom’s probably there.”
Someone else said, “We need to catch ’em somewhere outside his house, and somewhere where there aren’t any grownups. They wouldn’t understand.”
Chubbs said, “Maybe we could lure them into a trap. You know, like you bait a mouse trap with cheese.”
“That’s it!” cried Red. “It’s brilliant. We’ll use you, Chubbs, for the cheese cuz they know you’re an easy target. We can use Victor’s barn for the mouse trap. We’ll hide inside. Chubs, you’ll be outside on the sidewalk. Victor’s bunch of turds will go after you. You run inside the barn and out the back door. When they come looking for you, we’ll have ’em in the trap. It’s perfect.
Everyone got excited by the idea—everyone except Chubbs.
I just told you guys, I’m no good in a fight. I don’t want to be the bait.”
“Ya gotta be,” said Red. “You’re perfect for this. Ya don’t have to do any fighting. All ya gotta do is run, and you’re used to doing that. Besides, ya owe us for running out on us at the stream.”
After much cajoling and outright threats, Chubbs finally agreed, and we set off for Victor’s.
We ran across the street to the rear of Mrs. Twombly’s garage, through backyards, past the Poiriors Victory garden—sporting end of season and beginning to rot tomatoes—to Victor’s barn.
The barn—a large two story structure built when barns were supposed to hold things like horses, carriages, harnesses and tack, with a winter’s supply of hay overhead in the loft—had two imposing sliding doors that met in the middle. They slid open and closed by iron wheels at their tops that rolled on a steel track. A smaller, single door over the two front doors signaled a hay loft on the second floor. A square cupola with a copper rooster weather vane crowned the barn.
We pushed open the left front door to a three-foot gap. The door rolled more easily than we thought it would, but the wheels squeaked loudly. We quickly slipped inside.
Two windows on the left wall and two on the far end lit the spacious interior. Between the windows on the left, a wide wooden staircase gave access to the hayloft. The back door, or Chubbs’s escape door, was centered between the two windows at the far end—a straight run-through for him. Another door on the right wall presumably led to a pass-through to the house.
A set of four car tires were stacked under the stairs. Hanging on the wall next to the tires were car snow chains that looked like chains in a dungeon. The right wall held a lawn rake, a garden rake, a spade, and a snow shovel. Several large cardboard boxes gathered dust next to the tools. Next to the door leading into the house, a galvanized steel pail held rock salt.
Red turned to Caleb. “Grab that pail over there and dump the salt. Take it and your brother and go back to garden. There’s bound to be a rock pile around somewhere. Fill the pail and hurry back.”
“I didn’t see no rock pile when we ran passed it. Why don’t we use them tomatoes?”
“Every garden in New Hampshire is half dirt and half stones. Every gardener picks out the stones when they till in the spring. They throw the stones in a pile—“
“Yeah,” I interrupted. “And they grow back again the next year.”
We both laughed.
“So, stones or tomatoes?” asked Caleb.
“Stones! Don’t be stupid,” Red rolled his eyes. “Tomatoes won’t do much except make a mess. Victor’ll have rocks, so we gotta have ’em too.”
Caleb motioned to Cressy to follow and they hustled out the back door.
Red pointed to me. “Give me a hand moving these boxes and tires out from the wall so we can hide behind ’em.”
The tires were heavy and dirty, but they offered good protection from an enemy’s onslaught. I had come to consider Victor and his minions the “enemy.” The boxes, however, were light and flimsy and only good for hiding behind.
Chubbs stuck his head in the doorway. “Hey, you guys. There’s no sign of Victor. Maybe they won’t be here for hours. Maybe we ought to just go home. We can do it another day. Whaddya say?”
“Jasus keerist, Chubbs,” Red exploded. “Get your fat ass back out there. They’ll be here any minute.”
Chubbs slowly slunk back to his post.
Just then, Caleb and Cressy came through the back door. “Got the stones. You were right. There was a ton of ’em right next to the garden.”
“You and your brother take half the stones and hide behind those tires. We’ll take the rest and hide behind those boxes. When Chubbs comes running through, wait until I give the signal, then we’ll get ’em in a crossfire.”
“What’s the signal?” asked Caleb.
“Oh, for God’s sake!” Red said. “I’ll yell ‘Fire!’ Think ya can remember that?”
“Yup. But “fire” don’t make no sense to me. Ya says that when ya got guns, but we ain’t got no guns. All we got is rocks. I think ‘Throw!’ would make more sense. Just saying.”
“Keerist on a crutch!” Red exploded again. “I can’t believe this. How can ya be so…so…” He searched in vain for the right word.
“Stupid?” I offered.
“Yes. Stupid times ten and then some. Okay. ‘Throw’ it is. Now get over there behind those tires and keep quiet.”
Caleb and Cressy shuffled off to their position.
Red shook his head. “I can’t believe Victor wants to keep this ridiculous war going. Sooner or later somebody’s going to get hurt.”
“Hey. Somebody already did. Did you forget my broken nose?” I said indignantly.
“Oh, yeah. Sorry. Don’t worry. We’ll make the bustards pay for that.”
Yelling outside caught our attention. “Get that fat freak!”
“Don’t let him get away!”
“He’s going inside the barn.”
“We’ve got ’em now.”
Chubbs came rushing into the barn. In between huffs and puffs, he gasped, “They’re right behind me. Get ’em. Get ’em good.” He scrambled out the back door.
Within seconds, and amid a hubbub of curses and threats, Victor and four of his gang burst through the door.
“Where did that tub of lard go?”
“He didn’t have time to go up to the loft.”
“I bet he went out the back door.”
At that moment, Red jumped up from behind the boxes and shouted,”Fire! Slaughter ’em!”
I jumped up with him and we both threw our stones with a vengeance.
“Ouch,” yelped a minion as a rock hit him in the leg.
“Crap!. I’m hit,” cried another.
“Fight back,” yelled Victor “We’re five against those two. They ain’t got a chance.”
“Where the hell are Caleb and Cressy?” demanded Red. “Why aren’t they firing?”
A rock whumped into the box in front of me. Another clunked into the wall behind me.
“I dunno,” I said. “But tell ’em to hurry up before we get murdered.”
“Caleb! Cressy!” Red yelled. “Get off your asses and help us here.”
Caleb’s voice from across the barn. “Ya haven’t said “Throw” yet.
“God damn it. THROW!”
“Okay. Ya don’t hafta get mad.” Caleb and Cressy began showering Victor’s gang with rocks.
Cries and curses signaled stones finding their marks as we attacked the enemy from both sides.
The front of my shoulder suddenly stung as a missile struck it. I reached down to pick up another rock to fire back and—there were no more rocks. Red and I stared at each other.
Victor, guessing the cause for the cessation of rocks from our side, yelled, “They’re out of ammo. We got ’em now.”
Red grabbed a garden rake off the wall and tossed it to me while he took a hoe. “Time to play Little John. Start swinging.”
“Little John?” I asked.
“As in Robin Hood. Come on. Follow me.”
Red charged out from behind our boxes, swinging his hoe like a club. He caught one minion across the back, who squealed in pain and scuttled out the front door.
Caleb and his brother came out from behind the tires and pelted the remains of Victor’s gang. And then they ran out of stones as well.
Victor, seeing his ranks depleting rapidly, turned and ran. Just before he reach the doors, he shouted,”This ain’t the end of it. I’ll get you yet.” And then he was gone.
* * *
About a week later, I was walking down Pine Street with Caleb and Cressy when a rock slammed into my back. I spun around just as another rock whizzed by my head. Victor stood about twenty feet behind me. I remember thinking, He’s such a sneaky little turd. I charged him. He cut and ran. I stooped. He stopped. I ran after him again and he ran away again. Then again for a third time. I thought this was ridiculous. Maybe if I did nothing he might cease and desist. So I rejoined Caleb and his brother, and we continued down the street.
“We could all run after the bustard,” suggested Caleb.
“I’m just going to ignore him,” I said. “He’ll get tired of this sooner or later.” Even as I said it, I didn’t really believe it, but the truth was I really didn’t know what to do. I didn’t understand why Victor kept this feud going. Meanwhile, Victor continued to trail us. Next thing I knew, another rock whumped me in the back. That got me mad.
I picked up a piece of road tar and threw it as hard as I could. I didn’t really think I’d hit him, but at least I’d make the point that I wasn’t just going to take it. Surprise! I nailed Victor on the forehead, just over his left eye—the same eye I’d just missed with the paper clip in the beginning of the war. He just stood there for a minute, like he was stunned. Then he began bawling and ran home.
I was proud that I’d nailed the little turd, but at the same time I was scared by all the blood, and the thought that I’d hurt him bad, and that a lot of trouble was headed my way. While I was pondering what had just happened and what was likely to happen as a consequence, Caleb and Cressy jibber— jabbered away about what a good shot I’d made and how Victor got what he deserved and how road tar isn’t as hard as rocks. I hadn’t noticed my Uncle Bob on the other side of the street walking home for lunch. He come over, grabbed me by the shirt collar, and marched me home.
My grandparents were pretty upset by Bob’s rendition of what he’d observed, and not at all impressed with my explanation of the history behind it. They said I was thoughtless, and I’d put them in jeopardy of being sued and losing everything they owned. Grandma said they hadn’t raised me to be a little hooligan.
Sometime in the aftermath my grandparents had a phone conversation with Victor’s parents. I was never told what was said, but I never saw Victor on Pine Street again. Shortly after that, the Poiriors moved to Florida. My grandparents never spoke about it after that. I sensed they thought the subject distasteful and embarrassing. However, we stalwart members the Pine Street Gang talked about it a lot. I had achieved a kind of prepubescent hero status. I’d slain the dragon. I wondered if my grandparents and Uncle Bob would ever understand my side of the story.
Don Sanborn, a born and bred New England Yankee, migrated to Florida’s sun coast a decade ago, where he now spins tales of courage and conflict, demons and dragons, and things that go bump in the night. His books may be found on Amazon.