Weeks Mills, Maine
Both boys stood at the edge of the cliff, looking down, Robert E. Sproule with a
chicken under his arm.
“Come on, Bobbie, we gotta jump!”
The water below was roiling and Bobbie wasn’t much of a swimmer. “How do
you know it’s deep enough?”
“I’ve jumped down there lots of times. It’s plenty deep.”
The chicken thief didn’t seem convinced.
“Besides Old Man Palmer’s comin’ with his dog. We gotta hurry. Come on!”
It was clear Bobbie didn’t care for Old Man Palmer’s dog, but for jumping into
unknown waters, he cared even less. He glared at Theodore Patterson who was nine,
almost a foot taller, and plagued with freckles. “This your idea of a shortcut?”
“Don’t tell me you’re scared of heights?”
“Never said I was.”
They could hear the dog barking in the distance.
“Then what’re you waitin’ for?”
Bobbie almost didn’t answer. “Look, Theo, if you’re so hot on jumping, why
don’t you go first?”
“We’re blood brothers, ain’t we? That means we jump together.”
Bobbie remembered it vividly: how they’d used Theo’s knife and each boy
scratched a little cut into his palm and then they’d shaken hands.
“Damn!” Bobbie cried out. “That chicken just pecked me!” This, in spite of the
fact that Bobbie had gone to the trouble of christening the creature. He’d named it
Charlie, not taking into consideration its gender.
Theo rolled his eyes. “It probably don’t like the idea of meeting up with Buster
any more than we do.”
Bobbie continued to wrestle with his charge. “How come I’m the one has to carry
“Jesus, Bobbie, you don’t understand nothin, do ya?”
Not realizing what he was doing, Bobbie squeezed the chicken, making it cluck in
fear of it life.
Theo continued, rolling his eyes. “It’s part of the initiation. I’m already in the
club and you ain’t. You can’t get in unless you steal a chicken. We already discussed all
that.” Theo began to take off his shoes, intent on tying them around his neck.
“Damn it! It chicken pecked me again! What are we gonna do with it anyway?”
Theo looked up, sighing. Buster and Old Man Palmer were getting close. “Eat it.
Now let’s go.”
“What if it don’t wanna be eaten?”
Theo put his hands on his hips. “You just gotta wring his neck is all . . . like my
pa says he’s always gonna do to me!” Theo was bossy and unreasonable but, when it
came to jumping off cliffs, he had the heart of a lion, Bobbie had to admit. “Are you
comin’ or not?”
“What am I supposed to do with Charlie?”
“How am I supposed to know?”
Old man Palmer’s wobbly voice was close and clear. “They got no place to go,
Buster. After them, boy! Bring ‘em down!”
“You jumpin’ in like that, Bobbie Sproule? You’re gonna get your shoes all wet.”
Bobbie had only Theo’s word about the depth of the river, and Theo was known
to get his facts muddled. There might be piranhas down there, for all Bobbie knew, and it
might be only a puddle, not a pool. At best it was gonna be freezing cold and the chicken
might peck his eyes out on the way down.
Theo began to count. “Here we go then . . . One . . .”
Bobbie clutched Charlie harder. Old Man Palmer cursed as he tripped on a root.
“Two . . .” Theo stepped right to the cliff’s edge and lifted a foot. What the hell
was he smiling about? “Three!”
So much for jumping together. Still standing at the cliff's edge, Theo looked at
Bobbie and shook his head. “You can forget about being in the club, Bobbie.”
There was a final rustle in the bush. A great black dog was suddenly upon them.
All that lay between Bobbie and a painful mauling was Old Man Palmer with his hand on
Buster’s collar. Both man and dog licked their lips.
“So . . . caught the chicken thief red-handed.”
Bobbie froze, knowing neither what to say nor do. He knew only that he liked
open places way better than closed. All his senses were keen, and he could hear the sound
of Theo’s splash behind him and the insane clucking of his feathered hostage.
Gasping, Bobbie called upon his last reserves and stepped towards the cliff and
empty air. At the same moment a huge wrinkled hand grasped his shoulder. “Where
do you think you’re going?”
Then, to Bobbie’s utter astonishment, the tormented chicken broke free. Instead
of plummeting to the flood below, like a resurrected creature, Charlie scrambled up
onto the branch of the nearest tree.