The objective of this story is to present a fictional account of a ten-year-old child from 1966 who discovers the Tarzan movies and stories for the first time.
The intent is to illustrate the positive influence of these movies and books.
References to Tarzan movies and other E.R.B. nuggets are footnoted.
Story first appeared in ERB-APA #138 issued for Summer 2018. This version contains a couple tweaks described in the epilogue.
This story is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or otherwise is coincidental.
POINT OF VIEW
The prologue (immediately below) is told as a Third Person Narrator. The remainder of the story, from Chapter One to the end, is told in the First Person as an adult reflecting on his childhood.
PROLOGUE: THE HUNTER
The hunter froze in his tracks. He had just heard a growl that was straight out of a Tarzan movie. The full moon was bright overhead, but the thick leaf canopy obscured its light.
“Harlan, you were right all along,” said the hunter to himself. “There is a bobcat in these woods. I told them I saw it. They all laughed at me down at the service station. That jerk Larry is always putting me down. I’ll get him.”
With shotgun at the ready Harlan the hunter scanned his battery-powered lantern both to his front and his rear. The beast was lurking nearby, it had to be. He had seen a big cat a couple of times in the early evening near these woods. No one else had reported it. No farm animals were harmed that he knew of. Harlan knew that ending the menace posed to livestock and people by a cat this size would make him a hero. He very much wanted respect and recognition.
Harlan felt the need to prove his claim of a bobcat, especially to Larry. He remembered the conversation when Larry said, “It’s just someone pulling a trick on you. If an animal can act like people then why can’t people act like an animal?” (F01)
Deep in the woods, Harlan knew that sounds tended to bounce off the hills. But that single growl was unmistakably close. The spring rains and warmth had inspired both plant and insect life. The night bugs were producing an awful hum.
“Never liked to hunt at night,” he spoke aloud with a shudder. As darkness fell he watched the forest become spooky and mysterious giving him the chills.
Legends in Rural County were fueled by the night. Harlan, as most folks, imagined that everything changed in the darkness. Animals grew to monstrous height. The greenery turned to gloom. The moonlight awoke the spirits. Evil danced in the shadows. The illusions of the night called to mind the rumors of the dead that walked. It was long said that something unearthly killed soldiers here during the Civil War. Supposedly it was when General John Hunt Morgan passed through these parts on his way to Indiana. But that part of Morgan’s Raid was omitted from the history books and left now to legend and folklore.
He never thought much about God, but he was thankful for the light offered by the moon and fearful for what its shadows were hiding. He’d read a book once about some guy named “Julian” who found a maid on the moon. “A crazy idea of life on the moon,” he once said, “but it was a fun story.” (F02)
Harlan’s next step found a hole as though the forest floor itself had moved. He tumbled forward to plow his nose into the ground. He lay there for a moment silently cussing himself as his ankle began to ache.
The night bugs fell silent when something shook the branches above.
Still laying on the ground he rolled to his back then pointed the lantern at the trees. Two eyes glowed back at him. Even in the darkness they exchanged the look of hunter and hunted. With the lantern in his left hand focused on the target he braced the stock of the double-barrel shotgun against the ground to steady it. He squeezed one trigger, but the big cat dodged the bullet losing its balance on the limb. The second shot caught the feline in the air. The wounded predator landed on the ground maybe fifteen feet from him. The beast tried to crawl toward him but could only hiss and cry. The hunter came to his knees daring not to stand
“My ankle hurts like Hell,” Harlan proclaimed to his wounded opponent. The creature responded with a scream of glee.
He placed the lantern on the ground so it would shine towards the struggling big cat he found a replacement shell in his pocket. But dropped that shell when something else moved in the shadows. The wail of a second bobcat chilled his bones.
“That one is close,” he said aloud.
The hunter pulled the spent shells from their chamber then tossed them to the ground. Two more fresh shells from his pocket were accidentally dropped into the darkness. Watching the wounded cat struggle to regain its feet he felt around for the fallen shells. If the other noise he’d heard was another big cat in the vicinity he had to be careful with his ammunition.
He saw two shells in the moonlight and successfully placed them in the shotgun.
With lantern still positioned towards the wounded feline, he raised the double-barrel weapon to his shoulder while yet remaining on his knees. It was a matter of time for the big cat who was reduced to suffering and panting. A blast from the right barrel put his quarry out of its misery.
Taking care to point the business end away from his head the hunter used his rifle as a crutch to get to his feet. He retrieved his lantern then examined his victim. The ears and stubby tail suggested a Bobcat but it was nearly sixty inches long. It was hard to tell at night time but its coloring seemed to be shades of gray.
“Ain’t got no measuring tape with me. Everything looks bigger at night. I’ll come back in the morning. Now they’ll believe me. I’ll rub that pelt in Larry’s face.”
The hunter turned to hobble toward home when the other big cat pounced on him from the trees. The new attacker was relentless as it clawed, scratched and bit Harlan about the head. It seemed the creature had eight sets of sharp talons and rows of a hundred teeth. It was the embodiment of an angry calot from another book he’d once tried to read.
Desperate, Harlan pulled at the attacking cat with all his might. He flung it to the ground knowing that pieces of his scalp and an ear lobe were gone. He could not see through the blood and darkness. He dropped to his knees and lost his lantern when its light went out.
Not knowing where this new adversary had landed the hunter groped about for his gun and his lantern. The blood stung his eyes and obscured his vision. “Kaint see nothing.” Groping about he found the rifle then shot into the darkness.
From the distance an unearthly scream of anger shattered the night. The hunter cursed in reply. Harlan wondered if the shadows moved or if Morgan’s Raiders walked again.
Frightened and ailing, the hunter regained his feet then found his lantern when he stepped on it. Harlan pointed the now dim lamp towards home. Not quite to his property the light caught the backside of a furry animal, more pudgy and smaller than the bobcat he’d just dispatched. Its tail stood upright with the backside pointed directly at him. A white stripe was visible along the upper edge of the back.
“Skunk!” was his voiced alarm to the surrounding trees. He carefully backpedaled to detour around this new menace. Meanwhile the skunk saved his defensive odor for another day and went about his business.
NOTE: The remainder of this story is narrated by the story’s protagonist as an adult reflecting on his childhood.
CHAPTER 1: BACKGROUND.
In the summer of 1966 I turned ten years-old but nobody called me by my real name.
I escaped reality with books or however I could. We had a black and white TV with two channels and a radio that could get any broadcast east of the Mississippi.
I lived in “Mushroom Hollar”, a small town back in the hills and valleys of central Kentucky somewhere between coal country and tobacco country. It was a place where visitors from the big city would say they had found Mayberry in the bluegrass state. The nearest big city was an hour’s drive.
I followed the space program like some kids followed sports. I watched the daily news and read the newspaper. I was aware of riots, marches, violence, and Vietnam. I hungered for space news. In 1966, the first Lunar Orbiter began mapping the moon. The Gemini space program was preparing mankind to reach the moon. I wanted to go too. I loved science fiction and the idea of other worlds. I had just discovered jungle adventures. I yearned for an escape from despair. I was lost and looking for guidance.
Little did I realize, I was about to make a significant discovery.
CHAPTER 2: AT HOME
In the house of my childhood, there were no doors in the doorways and no way to escape the echo of arguments. My Mother and my step-dad, Larry, always had much to say.
The only peace I found was to escape into a book.
I was drafted into their war from the earliest day I can remember. The first volley in their daily conflict might sound like this. Larry would say something like, “I need a new thing-a-ma-jig for the car."
Mom would reply, "We don't have the money. We talked about repairing the house."
Their disputes were a way of life that I grew up with. I was numb, dumb, and naïve when a family discussion broke out. But I always sat there with ears open and eyes wide as the battle raged.
"I woke up with a cat in my bed,” I once interrupted. “But we don’t have a cat. Can we get a cat? It was tan with spots like a panther except for a short tail and hairy ears."
It was always a 50/50 chance as to whether Mom would defend me or join forces with Larry. But this time she explained my comment. "A cat got in here some way. Reckon there’s a hole in the house some place."
Larry never hesitated to speak his mind to me. "You're just a damn kid! No one cares what you want."
On this day Mom was on my side. "Larry, that is my son." But Mom paused as she always did with any remaining protest frozen in her throat. Larry stepped towards Mom. I stepped towards Mom. She backed away from me. I was never sure if she was rejecting me or that she feared Larry.
Larry glared at me with fists clinched. As sweat formed on my brow I blurted out, “I saw a black panther.”
Larry’s jaw dropped. “Where?”
“On TV”, I pointed to the box with the circular screen in the corner. “Tarzan killed it with his knife. There were others but they ran away.”
"Aw Junior!" To this day I never understood why Larry insisted on calling me Junior. It was never my name. Thanks to him, the word “Junior” was the first thing I learned to hate. Maybe it was because he could say it with more disgust and loathing than any other name. His tone turned the name of ‘Junior” into a cuss word.
“We need clothes for this boy. He is growing again.” At least Mom didn’t call me the dreadful “Junior” but instead pointed at me and referred to me as “this boy”. As a response Larry went into his power stance with hands on hips attempting to force smoke from his nostrils. With his face as red as a pepper Larry could look right through me. But he never looked at me like I was a person.
I later learned that Mom had me before she met Larry. And that my real father was someone else I would meet much later in life. Meaning that when Mom married Larry I came along as a package deal. But I was the elephant in the room they didn’t discuss, and he didn’t acknowledge. In retrospect I can understand an unwed mother seeking a partner. But the never-ending battles were a daily price we paid for comfort and security. I must say I always had a roof over my head, food in my belly and a book to read. With a book in hand I was out of sight and out of mind.
Even under stress my childhood curiosity would leak out with questions to Larry like “I don’t understand why you yell all the time?” But I knew why my Mom cried all the time.
Larry would fire back at me. “I don’t understand why your head is always in the stars.”
My answer shot out like an arrow, “It is safe there.”
It was a rare moment when both were speechless so I kept going. “On TV, Jane found a bracelet that she thought was a gift. But Tarzan took it back. Jane laughed about it. They didn’t argue,” I paused for eye contact, “not like you argue.” (F03)
Larry snorted. Try as he might he never succeeded in expelling smoke and flames but I am certain he was a dragon in a previous life. His cussing would singe ears. His look could make the heart burn. His nuclear fallout made Mom cry. I frowned a lot and kept out of the way. But I did learn words that no child should know.
"Aw Junior, put down that damn book and come out here and help me!"
Larry stomped off fully expecting the command to be obeyed. Obediently I thrust my book into Mom’s hands to follow him. I only wondered if Mom would put my book in the right spot. She was always overwhelmed after dealing with Larry.
CHAPTER 3: THE DUNGEON
On my way to the detached garage I was distracted by movement in the bushes. The brief glimpse suggested it was the cat I’d woke up with. But I knew better than to keep Larry waiting so I moved on.
Larry’s garage was his castle. For me it was a dungeon. He only came into the house to eat, sleep, and yell. Then the walls shook and the windows cried in their pane. My child’s eyes saw the garage as a vile place where every loose part and misplaced tool was covered in grease. Even with the garage door left open the fumes of exhaust hung heavy in the air and left a bad taste in my mouth. The litter of discarded parts left only enough room for the car’s front half to be pulled in out of the weather. I still hate the constant drone of an idling engine.
Larry never explained anything he was doing. Teaching requires patience. Patience is born of caring. Caring requires an emotional leap over the emotional burden. I was not Larry’s only burden.
My principle task, when helping in the garage, was to hold the flashlight then fetch tools whose names I did not know and whose functions I could care less about.
Over time, Larry and I developed a mutual rejection for one another.
Flashlight duty permitted my mind to wonder. Alien worlds with strange creatures and rocket ships roaring through the cosmos were far more interesting than the internal combustion engine. In addition, I had just begun to learn about adventures in the African jungle with its wild animals and lost cities. My fantasy world included many colorful heroes. My real-life world was mostly the black and white of despair.
I did know that a drooping flashlight could make me the first kid in space.
"Hold the light up!" he commanded. Any time Larry strained to gain torque on his wrench or to concentrate he would push his tongue just slightly past the edge of his lips. This muffled his words as well as limiting idle conversation. I often wondered how he kept from biting his tongue. However, that might keep him from yelling.
But I was excited to share great news, like, “I saw elephants and lions too.”
“Where?” He didn’t look up.
“On TV. Tarzan had a tree house. Can you build me a tree house?” (F03)
It was rare when Larry would stop working to explain something. He looked me right in the eye and almost spoke to me as if I was an actual person. I will never forget the sorrow in his eyes.
The rare times when Larry went into “dad” mode he first wanted to determine my age, “How old are you?”
“I’m ten.” I had learned to maintain an innocent stare during these talks.
“Yer ten going on eleven, right?” His mouth hung open waiting for a response.
Later, when I learned the meaning of the word “pathetic” I was quickly reminded of this exercise in mathematics. Sadder still was my having to look up phone numbers for Larry then make the call while he sat in the room telling me what to say on the phone. But Larry had no trouble telling me how he felt.
“I work all day in the factory. It is hard work. I do not sit at a desk. The foreman is on me all the time. I have to drive an hour to get there. I have to drive an hour to get home. I have to work on the car at night so I can go to work the next day. This happens every day.” He pointed to the burns on his arms. “Do you think that hot embers hurt?”
I gulped and nodded. In speaking with Larry, I did learn there are two sides to every story. Ironic that he was never interested in hearing my side of the story.
“Hold the flashlight up.” His head went back under the hood.
I continued relating a play-by-play of the movie. “Boy swept the dirt under the carpet. But he didn’t get in trouble like I did.” (F03)
“Is that all you think about? I don’t know about you Junior”.
A fire grew in me when I heard the hated word.
“Work not talk” was Larry ’s response. My eyes lit up.
“That’s what Tarzan said when they were loading the raft to go get Jane.” (F03)
Larry sighed. I learned that a sigh meant I was pushing the envelope.
“I heard you got a letter from your Uncle Billy?” Sometimes I wasn’t sure Larry really cared about his brother or anyone. Billy was nice to me even though he was Larry’s brother and therefore my step-uncle. After he finished boot camp, Billy was sent to Vietnam. That was six months ago.
Finally, I could say something he would like. “I did. And Billy sent me this neat T-shirt and patch that said ‘The Land that God Forgot’.” I held the patch out for Larry to see but he was too busy. A grunt was his only response. (F12)
I continued to describe the letter. “Uncle Billy said that it is pretty rough in the Mekong Delta and that every night they say a three-word prayer, ‘I still live’. He said it came from a book.” (F06)
I put the patch back in my pocket and continued. “After the movie went off I wrote Billy about Boy reciting Hiawatha.” (F03) This time a bigger sigh came from under the hood.
"Get me the channel locks.”
I handed over the flashlight then turned to the garage with trepidation.
“What are channel locks?”
With his head buried under the hood I could barely hear Larry ’s response, “You know what channel locks are.”
Since that day I’ve tried my best to answer a question with useable information.
The search for the channel locks led me to the tool box but there was never any “treasure” in this chest. Then I went to the work bench that extended the length of the garage. Then and now I regarded the “work bench” as a collection of droppings on the way to the junk yard where discarded parts had taken root in a chaotic tangle. The garage at the Sinclair station was orderly. But Larry always said that Mike the mechanic charged too much. I supposed that organization cost.
I dragged a cement block out of the way so I could open a cabinet door. This triggered another movie memory. “Tarzan must be strong. I saw Tarzan pick up a Amazon girl and carry her back over the mountains all the way to the lost city.” (F03)
There was no response from Larry who was buried up to his waist by the engine compartment like it was the gaping maw of a crocodile. I uttered this observation, “I saw Tarzan kill a crocodile,” but not a word from under the hood. (F03) Actually, the lack of a response was a hidden blessing.
I poked around carefully avoiding the mess and hoping for the cat to come out of hiding. Mom had tossed the feline outside; not bothering to see if it landed on its feet. I hoped the cat might return in one of its remaining lives.
The garden tiller lay in pieces upon the work bench. Before touching it I made sure the spark plug was disconnected. I couldn’t find the spark plug so I figured it was safe.
The handle fell off the bench ringing like a bell when it hit the cement floor. The cat jumped from an open cabinet, ran across the floor then up the back of Larry ’s leg. Before the cat made it to the engine compartment Larry wheeled around knocking the cat off his back. It landed, seemingly okay, only to be kicked at by Larry. His foot swung harmlessly through the air while the cat scampered across the street to take inventory of its remaining lives.
In this melee I saw the hairy ears and short tail. “That’s the same cat!”
Like lightning, Larry wheeled at me. “No, you can’t have a damn cat!” Then he crawled back under the hood and I resumed my search for the elusive channel locks – whatever they were.
I scratched my head and looked around. Outlaws had notches on their guns, warplanes had stamps of their kills, soldiers wore medals, doctors had degrees. Larry had grease.
I continued my recap of the movie. “Cheeta thought dynamite was a cigar”. (F03)
Finally, a response from the engine. “You’re going to get dynamite if you don’t find the channel locks. Do what I told you to.”
I stepped on something. It was a tool! I presented it to him with the same elation as Cheeta catching a fish.
“Would you take me fishing? I saw Cheeta fishing in the movie.” (F03)
Larry ’s response, "Them's ain't channel locks, just pliers. Don't you know nuthin! I'll find 'em myself. Get out of here."
This was all I needed! I had received permission to escape to Granny and Pap's. It was quiet there and maybe Granny had some cookies. I recovered my book then ran out as the screen door banged out a “goodbye”.
CHAPTER 4: SAFE HAVEN
I sneaked by the garage fearing that Larry would find a new task for me.
On the way to Granny’s I saw the cat again and this time it came right up to me. I picked it up. It had the largest feet I’d ever seen on a cat. There was extra hair on the tips of its ears and a stubby tail. This cat was tan with spots. I was certain it was the same feline I’d seen before. Balancing both a full-size cat and my book I entered Granny’s house through the back door. Granny was not in sight. I put my book down. Then I filled a bowl of water for the cat and placed both water and feline just outside the back door. I put some peanut butter on a slice of Granny’s homemade zucchini bread then watched the cat devour it. I followed that with a sliver of Granny’s rhubarb pie that the cat swallowed in one gulp. I retreated into Granny’s house just in case Larry saw me from the garage.
Granny and Pap were my Mom's parents who lived next door. Granny had read to me until I learned to do so myself. Pap took me for walks and watched TV with me. Granny and Pap were my buddies. Their home was my haven. Where conflict was normal in my house, here it was sometimes quiet, sometimes musical, and always fun.
When I reentered, Granny had returned to the kitchen to examine some pies in the oven. Her pies and cakes were legendary at our church picnic. She was surprised when I turned down a slice of chocolate cream. Pap was stretched on the couch reading the Saturday newspaper but must have overheard. He may have thought something was wrong because he told me I could turn on the TV. I politely declined wishing I'd have marked where I left off in my book.
Then I found it in Chapter 15, “Forest God”:
The Englishman sprang quickly after him just in time to see the hind quarters of some huge animal about to disappear through the window of the cabin.
As Jane Porter opened her eyes to a realization of the again imminent peril which threatened her, her brave young heart gave up at last its final vestige of hope, and she turned to grope for the fallen weapon that she might mete to herself a merciful death ere the cruel fangs tore into her fair flesh
The Lioness was almost through the opening before Jane found the weapon, and she raised it quickly to her temple to shut out forever the hideous jaws gaping for their prey.
An instant she hesitated to breath a short and silent prayer to her Maker, and as she did so her eyes fell upon her poor Esmeralda lying inert, but alive, beside the cupboard.
How could she leave the poor, faithful thing to those merciless, yellow fangs? No, she must use one cartridge on the senseless woman ere she turned the cold muzzle toward herself again.
How she shrank from the ordeal! But it had been cruelty a thousand times less justifiable to have left the loving black woman who had reared her from infancy with all a mother's care and solicitude, to regain consciousness beneath the rending claws of the great cat.
Quickly Jane Porter sprang to her feet and ran to the side of the black. She pressed the muzzle of the revolver tight against that devoted heart, closed her eyes, and - - - Sabor emitted a frightful shriek.
The girl, startled, pulled the trigger and turned to face the beast, and with the same movement raised the weapon against her own temple.
She did not fire a second time, for to her surprise she saw the huge animal being slowly drawn back through the window, and in the moonlight beyond saw the heads and shoulders of two men.
As Clayton rounded the corner of the cabin to behold the animal disappearing within, it was also to see the ape-man seize the long tail in both hands, and bracing himself with his feet against the side of the cabin throw all his mighty strength into the effort to draw the beast out of the interior.
The lioness's shriek as Jane Porter had been about to put a bullet into the poor Esmeralda, had saved the black's life, for the little start the girl gave had turned the muzzle of the revolver to one side and the bullet had passed harmlessly into the floor. (F04)
Pap put down his newspaper to eye me. I really wanted to read but I would take a talk with Pap any day over garage duty for Larry.
“You’re not eating, Little Fellar?” I liked Pap’s pet name for me.
“No thanks. I was just enjoying the book you loaned me.”
“Well. I figured for sure I heard you in the peanut butter when you came in.”
“Golly, Pap, maybe just a little.” I smiled and laughed.
He raised up on the couch. “If you want something it’s all right.”
“I know thanks.” I returned to reading my book.
"So, you like the book?" He raised his eyebrows with anticipation at my answer.
"Oh yeah!" I responded. “Thanks for loaning it to me, I’m taking good care of it.”
“I knew you would.” He laid back on the couch and patted his belly.
I saw “McClurg” on the book’s spine. There was some kind of circle like an Acorn just above it. The book had a maroon cloth cover but no dust jacket. (F07)
“How old is this?” I gestured to the book.
“Oh let’s see, I was born in 1910 and I’ve had that since I was 8 or 10 years old.”
“You liked to read too?” I asked.
“Oh sure. Started with reading the Bible then one day my paw went to town and brought that back to me. Had a picture on the cover but that’s all gone now. When I was a young’n there wasn’t much else to do at night except to read. Grew up on a farm. The world opens when you read.”
Then I remembered to tell Pap, “I saw Tarzan and the Amazons. The safari lied to Boy so he would take them to Palmyria where they had a really big gong. But the safari killed people and stole everything.” (F03)
Pap’s eyes brightened as he sat up right on the couch. “I remember Tarzan and the Amazons. The Amazon city had a golden dome. The stone statue held a gold tree and a gold snake. It was wrong of the safari people to lie, steal, and kill.” (F03)
To this day, I remember the relief at having an intelligent conversation about this great movie. “The safari shot a mama lion. Tarzan took care of the cubs. Tarzan said ‘Every time men bring guns they bring trouble’ but Boy didn’t listen. (F03)
I caught my breath then continued. “Tarzan also said, ‘Not good for man to look straight in the sun.’ Boy found out what Tarzan meant after everyone got killed.” I remember how real the movie seemed to me.
Pap strained to remember some detail of the movie then spat in his spittoon. “I ain’t seen that movie in nearly twenty years. Was it on TV today?”
I nodded. “This morning. Better than cartoons.” I remember smiling.
He shook his head. “I was busy doing chores. So you liked the movie?”
“Sure! I learned not to swim with crocodiles. Jane had been gone a long time. When she came home they all played tag and laughed and swam. They didn’t argue like at my house.” (F03)
Pap stood up then rubbed my head. It was just like Tarzan did with Boy in the movie, “How about a walk?” I agreed and he told Granny we were leaving.
I followed Pap into the kitchen. “Granny would you tell my Mom I’m with Pap. Don’t bother Larry he is working hard in the garage. He likes to be left alone.” Granny kissed me goodbye. I left my book safe in Granny’s hands.
Outside of Granny’s door I looked for the cat but did not see it. Both water and bread were gone too.
Concluded in Part II
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