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Thread: Rough Boys and Treasure Island

  1. #1
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Rough Boys and Treasure Island

    Rough Boys and Treasure Island
    a short story adventure

    Although it was steamin’ hot and late in October, Spiderman would not make for the shade. A guard never leaves his post. Instead, he stood by the entrance and waited, his eyes looking up the block, feet placed solidly on the pavement, intentions steadfast. He was like a large grey rock. To him, guarding was more than a job. It was his duty. And, as someone once said, “Dooty is dooty, to be sure.”

    Finally at 3:30 they showed up at the end of the block on Alondra. Small they were and hard to make out. But he knew it must be them. Besides, who else walked together in threes all wearing white uniform shirts? It was them all right.

    They were, from left to right or from short to tall, whichever you choose: Juan Plata, short and precious, his head buried in a book, Billy Huesos, taller and almost skeletal, and Israel Manos, the leader, probably because he was tallest of all. They were rough boys. They were the nicest in the hood. It depended on who you talked to.

    Israel pushed open the gate saying, “Hi, Spiderman.” Billy patted him on the head as he walked by. Johnny said nothing. Like I said, his head was buried in a book. Spiderman wagged his tale. Now they would let him off his chain and he could play or chew on a bone. His charges were home from school.

    The lot was in East Rancho Dominguez. Don’t get me wrong. It sounds rural, all old California. It’s not. It’s right next to the armpit of L.A., Compton. No one would stay there if they had the money to move out. Not if they were in their right mind. So the boys lived in Rancho Dominguez but they went to Roosevelt Middle School just five blocks away in Compton. Still, the lot where they played wasn’t bad. It had a much to commend it.

    Number one, it was safe. The surrounding cement block walls plus guarding by Spiderman made it so. Nowadays they’d call it a “safe haven.” And there was supervision. Juan’s grandpa lived there in a trailer on one end, one of those silver Airstream jobs. It was much safer than the park on Atlantic Avenue. There was no dope dealing or scoring going on and no gangsters. The only crack pipes they found were only there because people out on the street had thrown them over the wall trying to hide the evidence just before getting hassled by the Compton Sheriffs. Even then they’d be broken. Gramps would have to clean them up with a broom. Naturally he complained to Israel when it was his turn to hold the dustpan. Being an old codger he complained a lot.

    “ I got better things to do than sweep up broken glass,” he’d say, “at least the junkies eat their bags of tar.”

    “Whadda you expect the crack heads to do, Gramps,” Israel replied, “Eat glass? They're not in a circus."

    "That's what you think."

    The only other problem was when they’d have to repaint the outer walls when tagging crews from the 7Os would cross out the graffiti of the CGs, or that of Lime Hood. But that was cool. Gramps had plenty of paint. Juan would often do the job, trying to get kids in the hood to help him, trying to convince them it was fun. He probably thought he was Tom Sawyer or something, since he always had his head in a book. But lots of paint wasn’t the only thing they had. They had junk, plenty of junk. Other parks had leaky water fountains, rusty swing sets, yellowing grass, and cigarette- butt studded sand boxes but they had more than that.

    They had junk.
    They sat down as they always did at the round wooden spool table. Here they ate lunch on Saturdays, had councils of war on Sunday night, and plotted play the rest of the week. This was a Monday. So what would it be?

    “Cops and drug fiends?” asked Billy.

    “King Arthur and his Knights?” said Israel, “We already got the round table.”

    They both looked at Juan for his suggestion. None came. He was silent in his book.

    “Oh ****” said Israel, “he’s deep in it again.”

    Juan was deep in his book and wouldn’t come out. He wouldn’t talk. No response unless you broke the code. It couldn’t be done unless you knew the key. Billy leaned over and peered at the cover.

    “What is it this time?” asked Israel.

    “Something called Treasure Island,” he replied.

    Then we’re in for a quiet spell. I know nothing about it.”

    “Me neither,” remarked Billy.

    Israel sat back, put his fist under his chin and pondered. Juan was hard to reach when he was like this. He wouldn’t come out ‘till he finished, or until you spoke to him like a character in the book. Sometimes it lasted a chapter. Sometimes it was the whole book. He looked over. It wasn’t too thick, this book.

    “Wadda you think?” posed Billy.

    “I think we’re gonna hafta wait.”

    “But I gotta go home in an hour. Just break the code,” he pleaded.

    “Like I said, I know nothing about it. I’ll never find the key in time.”

    Any code breaker knows that to break a code you have to know the key. For Juan the key was in the book. If, somehow you could talk to him through the book, you’d break the code and he’d snap right out of it. But Israel knew nothing of the book. Not too many seventh graders had read a novel. In class, when the teacher asked, “Now, who here has read a novel? Raise your hands.” Only one hand went up out of thirty-six kids. Thirty-six. And it wasn’t like he had a copy of Cliff’s notes in his back pocket.

    “I suggest,” he said to Billy, “we make it just us two, Sir Lancelot and Sir Gawain. King Arthur here is busy.”

    So they found two sticks of appropriate length, followed by two garbage-can lids with appropriate shine, and repaired to Camelot, which was on the other side of the lot under a tree, leaving King Arthur at his round table, neatly wrapped up comfortably between the pages of Stevenson. Two days later he was still the same. They sat at the table again. But this time Billy said,

    “Watch this.” be continued next Saturday kiddies....

    ©StevenHunley2013 WEST SIDE STORY MASH-UP - "Rough Boys" - Pete Townsend

  2. #2
    TheFairyDogMother kiz_paws's Avatar
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    Loved it!
    And loved that Spiderman, too.
    Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty
    ~Albert Einstein

  3. #3
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    Billy turned to Juan and said, “Is that you, Black Dog?”

    At this Spiderman’s ears went up.

    “Not you Spiderman, you’re grey. Sit down boy. “And quit ear-hustling.”

    He turned back to Johnny. “It is you, Jim Hawkins?”

    Johnny’s eyes brightened but he didn’t respond. He did however lower the book a bit.

    Israel watched intently. He sensed Billy had something up his sleeve.

    Now pay attention this time,” he said. “Is that you, Long John Silver?”

    Juan put down the book immediately, faced him and said, “Yes my lad; such is my name to be sure. And who may you be?”

    Israel was flabbergasted. How had he done it? He asked him straight away, “How?”

    “I lucked out. I was watching Disney’s re-runs last night. They had on his first color movie, Treasure Island. It was good too. It was about a pirate, Long John Silver, and about a treasure island. What else?”

    Now Juan was talking. The problem was he was only talking like Long John Silver. From now on they would have to call him John or Johnny. He would pay attention, sometimes nodding in agreement or sometimes shaking his head. If the situation fit, he’d talk, but only like Silver. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

    Halloween came. It was no surprise that Johnny was dressed as a pirate. He even had a stuffed bird, an old cat toy, glued to his shoulder. When they asked him about it he said,

    “I calls me parrot Cap’n Flint, after the famous buccaneer.”

    After Halloween they found new things to get into. The grandpa would take care of them and fill the lot with the treasures he brought back each weekend when he went collecting on trash day. When he was a boy people called him a trash-picker. Now they called him “green”.

    “I can’t see why they call an old fart like me green,” he said, “It just don’t make no sense.”

    He went out on weekends collecting junk. The boys would help him sort it out when he got back. The lot was full of it. Old refrigerators, spools of copper wire, glass antique door knobs turning purple in the sun, new stuff every week. One day he came home with two large gray cylinders in the back of his truck.

    “Come help me lift ‘em out boys, they’re mighty heavy.”

    They placed them against the wall.

    “What are these, Gramps?” Israel asked.

    “Hell if I know,” he shook his head, “but they’re full of somethin’. Heavy things are often valuable. ‘Less they’re rocks of course. Some of them’s valuable too, like diamonds, rubies, and such.”

    Billy looked at the cylinders. They were a dull grey and marked ARMY.

    “Well,” said Billy “if weight makes ‘em valuable, those things must be a treasure!”

    The next day at the round table Israel made an announcement.

    “I know what’s in the bottles,’ he said, ‘it’s helium. My mother bought some balloons from the 99 cent store. Helium bottles are all the same color. And I got even better news, these!”

    He removed two packs of 99 cent balloons from his pocket and waved them about.

    “You’re a lad, you are, but you’re smart as paint,” said Johnny, “I seen that when you first come in.”

    They became balloonists. They proceeded to fill the sky of Compton, Rancho Dominguez, and Paramount with balloons. Who knows where else they drifted?
    Some escaped all the way to L.A. Red ones there were, and blue, yellow, and green. They tied dirty notes to them and sent them aloft. I’m sure whoever found them was shocked. Like I said, they were rough boys.

    One day Gramps said, “Winter’s coming on and I need an Army field jacket. Want to come along to the army surplus store?”

    For a boy of thirteen an army surplus store is impossible to turn down. They all answered yes except Johnny.

    “Thank you kindly sir,” he said, and saluted.

    While Gramps was looking for a jacket they foraged through the canteens, steel helmets and backpacks hoping to find a Luger, or a Walther P38. Israel found something even more valuable, a stash of huge surplus air force weather balloons.

    “Do you know what we could do with these?!” said Billy.

    “If we was only rich.” Israel said with a sigh.

    As they drove home Gramps noticed they were quiet for a change, lost in thought.

    The next day they were attaching toy soldiers to the strings instead of nasty notes. It might have gone on that way forever, or until the gas ran out, but Billy changed all that when he announced one day that he’d seen a movie called Danny Deckchair.

    “Yeah,” he continued over their round-table discussion, “this guy attached his balloons to a chair just like ours and took off!”

    “No!” said Israel.

    “Seriously Homie, he flew right away!”

    They bought two packs, filled up 10 balloons and attached them to an aluminum chair, nothin’. Ten more, nothin’. Twenty more and it hadn’t moved an inch. The next day the news was even worse when Israel announced, “I googled it during computer lab and you know how many balloons it takes? Four thousand!”

    “Four thousand?”

    “Four thousand party balloons. But it would take only four the size of the ones we saw at the surplus store.”

    “Yeah,” said Billy, “but we can never afford it. That’s twenty bucks!”

    Just then Johnny walked up. He could see they were obviously sad about something.

    “Why there you all are together, like a happy family, in a manner of speaking.”

    They told him what they’d found out and how impossible seemed, but he just said,

    “I know when a game’s up, I do; and I know a lad that’s staunch.”
    Israel took heart.
    “I’m a staunch lad,” he said, “and I’m not going to give up. We can do this.”

    He looked at them both and stood up straight, looking even taller than usual.

    “We can do this thing if we really want to. Once we set our course I’d hate to be the man who’d stand in our way. Let’s figure out how to do this, men. Three heads are better than one.”

    “We can split the price three ways,” offered Billy, “What man of us can’t raise seven bucks?”

    “But dash my buttons!” said Johnny.

    “It’s settled then. It’s a done deal. We’ll sign articles on it.”

    “By the powers,” said Johnny, “but this tops the stiffest yarn to nothing!”

    A week later they had the money. Billy got it from taking back dead car batteries to Liberty Battery on Atlantic Avenue where they rebuilt them. Gramps had two in the yard. He got the last one with a ‘five finger discount’ from a dusty car parked in an alley. It wasn’t going anywhere anyway.

    Johnny got his money up when he cut up some soap and bagged it up. A crack dealer who posted up in a garage worked through a hole in the garage door, selling it to customers in the alley. When he left for lunch Johnny took his place. He sold it as a dime to a crack head. He figured he was doing him a favor.

    Israel got a pizza from Two-for-One Pizza on Alondra. Someone on the phone ordered a big one right before closing time and never picked it up. Israel “happened” to stop by and picked it up for free. They knew him there. Then he went door to door and sold the big one for a dime. They took it at the third door he went to. So the money was up.

    Like I said, they were rough boys.

    For the ship they choose the lightest aluminum armchair they had, one that folded.

    “We should name our craft,” said Billy. “People name boats and aircraft all the time. We’ll name her,” he said looking at Johnny, “the Hispaniola.”

    Being Hispanic, all three were of one mind. So the Hispaniola she was. They attached thick nylon cord for the balloons and stepped back to look at her. She was completely makeshift, totally unsteady, and no doubt dangerous. So they loved her to death.

    “Ah, she’s a handsome craft, she is,” said Johnny. It was a sentiment shared by three.

    There was only one thing more to decide. Who’d sail her? She’d stand only one.

    “That’s got to be either you or Johnny,” Israel said looking at Billy, “I’m too heavy. So I guess you’ll have to flip.”

    They flipped and fate sealed it in a flash, snap, just like that. It was Billy. Johnny’s face showed instant disappointment. But being one of the crew he’d share equally in the glory no matter how small he was. They’d signed articles.

    Israel asked, “Shall we launch it now, or shall we wait? It’s almost dark.”

    Johnny answered, “Wait is what I say; but when the time comes, why let her rip!”

    They’d launch it in the morning.


    Next Saturday mates, for the finish!

  4. #4
    Phil Captain Pike's Avatar
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    Huntley in Hinckley fashion! I had to read right to the bitter end!

    One thing caught me up. Probably just my comprehension. The young boys couldn't have been around in the 70s, and now I know you meant grandpa. I'm not even going back now (I might) I'm sure you didn't put the young teen trident in both time frames.

    I don't know how you knock these out – I know, I know, you sit down, every day, at the typewriter, and after a couple of months you've got a novel. Didn't Hemingway say something like? A good read, thanks for posting.

    PS: that soap trick is big out here too! No one can get an addict clean, ha ha.

    Ничего нет лучше для исправления, как прежнее с раскаянием вспомнить.

  5. #5
    Registered User Steven Hunley's Avatar
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    The End of a Grand Adventure

    Saturday morning broke clear and warm. Spiderman assumed his post. He didn’t know it was Saturday, so when he saw some figures down the block approaching, not wearing white uniform shirts, and not at the proper time, he was a bit disconcerted. He stood at attention. When they got close enough to make out he saw it was his three alright, but not dressed as usual. Israel Manos looked almost the same, but walked with a measured pace, a bullhorn in his hand. Billy Huesos had on a steel army helmet and was wearing fatigues and a BB pistol in a holster. Johnny Plata had on his tri-cornered hat from Halloween, the stupid cat-toy bird Captain Flint plastered on his shoulder, and a wide belt with a plastic cutlass looped through it. They were keeping step like soldiers on parade.

    Israel pushed open the gate and said seriously, “We expect you to do your duty today Spiderman.” Billy patted him on the head with his gun hand. Johnny said nothing even though his head was not in a book. “Dooty is Dooty, to be sure.” thought Spiderman and went on high alert. They marched to the launch site and grabbed the helium canisters.

    Billy straightened his helmet. Johnny straightened his parrot. Israel checked the batteries in the bullhorn. They began filling the balloons. They’d fill up pretty quick. Attached by the nylon cord the first one rose skyward until it peaked over the wall. That left three to go. Number two wasn’t any harder. The chair rose about two feet, straining on the ropes attached to the stakes in the ground, the ground wires.
    “You better get in now,” said Israel, “me and Johnny can handle it from here.”

    The chair settled back down immediately. The ground wires went slack.

    “What’s the matter?” he bawled.

    “We still got two to go. Don’t worry. It’s just your weight.” said Israel.

    They filled up number three, still nothing. Ground wires slack. He wasn’t sure this was going to work.

    “We still got one left,” announced Israel. The three balloons, attached as they were by six foot ropes to the arms of the chair were in the air now and way over the height of the wall. People on the street were beginning to take notice. They started to fill the last balloon. Israel grabbed the bullhorn and announced to Spiderman,

    “Spiderman, stay alert, don’t let anyone in. It’s almost launch time.”

    And he had a duty to perform as now a crowd was forming outside the gate. It was a chain-link gate and he could see right through. Men were carrying their children there on their shoulders. Women were pushing babies in strollers there to see what was going on. Soon the police would get wind of it.

    The last balloon filled. The ground wires were straining but not enough. The wind was flexing them, slack then taut, slack then taut, like rubber bands. Sweat was running down Billy’s face in torrents.
    “What the hell’s the matter?” he bawled.

    “The weight’s too much,” Israel answered. The balloons are full! We got to cut down on the weight somehow!”

    Outside, a crowd was heading toward the gate. A police siren started wailing in the distance.

    Billy jumped off. The ground wires went taut again, under unbelievable strain. He pulled out his gun and turned to Johnny. He stepped towards him with the gun, then he handed it to him.

    “When you want to come down,” he said, “just shoot a balloon or two. They’re BBs, not pellets, the holes should be small. She should come down real easy.”

    Johnny stuck it in his belt. A friend is a friend even if he is a rough boy. The siren stopped when a black and white pulled up to the gate.

    Johnny looked at the balloon. Three seconds earlier he would have never considered sitting in the deck chair. Three seconds later he couldn’t imagine having sat anywhere else.

    They cut the ground lines and he was off. It may be noted by fans of Stevenson that this was the first time the Hispaniola, carrying Long John Silver and Captain Flint, set sail since her first voyage in 1883. It only confirms my suspicion that such risky occupations such as treasure seeking are not exclusive to any age, be it of man or boy.

    As the ship with balloon sails ascended, Long John looked down. Two sheriffs were approaching the lift off point and the two remaining rough boys. He shouted down, “Did any of you gentlemen want to have it out with me?”

    But he never heard their answer. The men, the boys, even massive Spiderman were getting too small now. He could see the whole block, then two blocks, then more. Soon he could see from Alondra to Compton Boulevard. At first he was scared, being up so high. But now everything appeared like a model train set. Look, tiny cars were there. Then there were tiny trees. And look, there was a train too. Everyone knows Compton was on the other side of the tracks, the wrong side. He could see it quite clearly. The only problem was, how could he steer a course for Treasure Island? But not to worry, the wind would see to that.

    You’d think Treasure Island was out at sea next to Catalina. It wasn’t. It must be inland somewhere, as that’s where the wind was carrying him. It took him up near some big smog-congested people-packed city, then over green hills. That’s when he caught his first glimpse of the island.

    Yes, that must be it, because couldn’t he see birds? It definitely looked like large pink birds. He turned to Flint, who was still on his shoulder and said,
    “Ah, “says he, “this here is a sweet spot, this island- a sweet spot for a lad to get ashore on. It’s a pleasant thing to be young, and have ten toes, and you may lay to that.”

    He took the gun out of his belt, and shot one balloon. He descended slowly, just a bit at a time. Yes, they were tropical birds! They were flamingoes. And there were trees. Certainly trees like that never grew in Compton! And there were other animals too he’d never seen before. It was surrounded by water as any island should be. And there was an open area where he could land. He made another shot as he drifted over it. He came down same as before, and landed with a gentle thump. Now he’d unbuckle the seatbelt and disembark. But he had one problem. His seatbelt was stuck.

    He thought he had all the time in the world to get it loose but he didn’t, because behind the log right in front of him, just catching his scent, was a full grown male Bengal tiger. What was he doing on an island?

    Nothing. He wasn’t on an island.

    He was right in his home in the L.A. Zoo. Mr. Tiger got up to investigate. You can imagine how shocked he was to find a young tender pirate there on his island surrounded by its moat! Mr. Tiger wondered how he’d got there. He wondered again just what was it about this young tender pirate that smelled so good. He decided to find out.

    Long John saw the tiger. He was too terrible, too big, and much too close for his liking. Right now you probably think the Juan in him was trembling. It wasn’t. The Long John in him wouldn’t let it. He was as cool as a sea cucumber. The tiger got within two feet. His whiskers were as thick as pencils. His eyes glowed like flaming coals. Before John could duck, the tiger let out a terrible roar, and swiped his paw by Long John’s face, knocking Captain Flint off his shoulder. His needle-claws left five marks on his cheek.

    The boy refused to take any more. He was a Rough Boy. He was Long John Silver. When the tiger finished his roar, he said to him, “Put a name on what you’re at; you ain’t dumb I reckon. Him that wants shall get it.”

    The Tiger stood down and walked over to the already senseless Flint and pawed him a bit. He wasn’t going to fight.

    Long John finally got the seatbelt unbuckled. He said to the tiger, who was now rubbing his face against Flint in a most affectionate manner, “That’s your sort, is it? Well, you’re a gay lot to look at, anyway. Not much worth to fight you ain’t.”

    By this time a huge crowd formed outside the moat. People visiting the zoo that day were there, along with helicopters flying overhead, reporters arriving by the score, and dozens of cops including the swat team in their Hummers. They didn’t know what to do. The tiger seemed completely occupied with Flint, rubbing his face on him, pushing him about with his paw. Long John looked up and saw them staring. It irritated him. They seemed obsessed with wanting to get him out but didn’t want to enter the tiger’s lair to do it.

    Really they had nothing to fear. The answer was simple as stone soup.

    Captain Flint wasn’t a real parrot, remember? He was a retired cat toy. Being that, he was stuffed with catnip. Right now he was doing a somersault and a few cute flips in the back of the enclosure. Someone found a long ladder and persuaded Johnny to crawl over the moat. He did, but at the last moment they wouldn’t give him a hand up.

    “Who’ll give me a hand up?” he roared.

    He had to shinny over the cement wall, and doing so he skinned his knee. That pissed him off. He stood on the top of the wall and looked at the crowd severely. Being a Rough Boy, and being Long John Silver, he spit in front of them all, right on their precious cement.

    “There!” he cried, “that’s what I think of ye.”

    He looked at the swat team’s Hummers. “Before an hour’s out I’ll stove in your blockhouse like a rum puncheon.”

    They’d never heard a boy talk like this before. They started laughing, all of them, the whole bunch.

    “Laugh, by thunder, laugh! Before an hour’s out, you’ll laugh upon the other side. Them that die’ll be the lucky ones.”

    They considered what he said. They considered how he said it. They considered that he’d tamed the tiger and fell silent and respectful. A cop approached him with a blanket, bundled him off the wall, and stuck him into an ambulance thinking he’d gone quite mad.

    Now you’re probably thinking there was no treasure in this story but there was. It started with the money they got from interviews with CNN. There were the interviews first, for all three of them. That was followed by their appearances on the Tonight Show and Saturday Night live. Then there were numerous book deals, followed by the movie, and finally the television series. All three cashed in on the treasure and shared it equally. And why not? They’d signed articles. In short, the three poor boys from Rancho Domingues became rich. I can’t tell you everything they spent it on but I’ll tell you about one thing in particular.

    Long John, who was back to Juan now he’d finished the book, bought a wonderfully smart African Grey which he named Captain Flint. He taught it to talk. He gave me a present of a Moroccan bound first edition of Treasure Island he bought at Christies in London. Why me? Because I’m his Gramps of course. I’m older now than I was then and I was ancient even then. I have trouble sleeping at night and have dreams of the whole affair.

    “And the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts, or start upright in bed, with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears; Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”
    Damn bird.

    ©Steven Hunley 2011

    Author’s note: If any of this seems a bit familiar it’s probably because all of Juan’s dialogue is pirated word for word from Long John Silver’s statements in Stevenson’s classic book Treasure Island. I had to admit it now lads and lassies because didn’t Long John once say, “Dooty is dooty, to be sure.”?

    Sorry R.L.S., but don’t you agree?

    A pirate ‘tis a pirate, even if he’s a literary one, and you may lay to that.

  6. #6
    TheFairyDogMother kiz_paws's Avatar
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    My gawd, what a worthy read!
    Laffed my euphemism clean off I did!!
    Good on ya, Steven.
    Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty
    ~Albert Einstein

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