We met again the next afternoon. Fired up once more with the spirit of adventure we rushed around like demented squirrels gathering up bits of board, pipe, nails, string, cardboard, and other items to make our fort a home. My brother’s wagon was piled high with goodies so we had to be doubly careful not to dump the stuff on the ground. Oops, too late.
Once again we piled items on my brother’s wagon and set forth – again – into the woods. We would do the picking up thing several more times on the way there. Each time we pondered the necessity of this or that item. We were leaving a trail of discarded things a blind person could follow into our secret location.
Finally, we arrived and unloaded. Well, actually, it was unloaded for us because when we stopped the wagon lost a wheel and the whole load dumped yet again. “Just leave that crap on the ground. We’ll get it if we need it.” Sage advice from an anonymous voice in the group.
We spent the next few hours hammering, sawing, grumbling, and making an occasional profane shout when a finger get between the hammer and the nail. The whole fort was taking shape now and really looking good. We had three side up as tall as the tallest one of us and as soon as we finished the roof poles we’d begin putting pieces of plywood and thick cardboard on top. We had some of the younger guys out in the surrounding woods gathering pine boughs to help hide the fort from casual view.
It was inevitable that we were finally finished. In our view it was a finely crafted, very good looking fort. In reality, it was probably very leaky, and a Big Bad Wolf could huff and/or puff it right down. But what the heck, we were proud of it. This time, before we left, we all gathered inside and took our solemn oath never to divulge the location of this secret place. Never mind that probably every kid in the neighborhood knew where it was.
Wearily, we trudged back to my place, tools only in the little red wagon this time. We had exhausted all the building supplies we brought. Also included were numerous pine branches which would no doubt turn brown and un-hide our fort. I had to admit, as I looked back from down the trail a ways, it did seem to blend right into the side of the cliff.
All week long we took about an hour each afternoon after school and drug items of comfort down to the fort. An old camp chair appeared. A very threadbare (and stinky, from Tad’s dog) rug was tried, convicted and sentenced to stand guard ten feet away from the front door. A small two-shelf bookcase was assembled into which we put all our rations, comic books, tin cans with assorted goodies in them, and other things that interested pre-teen boys. Nobody claimed to know where the smutty magazine came from, but we all agreed that it was probably okay to keep it around for a while. At least until we needed glasses.
Due to the inconsistencies of parents, only five of us guys got to sleep out in the fort the first weekend it was ready. My brother and I were two of them. A nice fellow named Bert, a rather mouthy kid named Benny, and a very quiet kid named Xavier made up the fearless five who would initiate the fort. We packed up for the trip (all 1 mile of it) like we were attempting to scale Everest. My mother spotted my brother and I sneaking all sorts of stuff out of the house. She reclaimed three packages of hot dogs, one of the tins of cocoa, a huge bag of marshmallows, and a box of firecrackers that had somehow gotten mixed in with them. “Gosh, mom, I haven’t a clue where those came from. No, I won’t set the woods on fire. Well, okay, I’ll put them aside.” Poop! Nothing is more exciting than blowing up hot dogs and marshmallows with ladyfingers.
We arrived, arranged our sleeping gear on the ground and built a very small fire on the ground in the middle of the fort. Upon reflection, after the place filled with smoke almost immediately, we decided that we should probably have put in a stove pipe. Motion carried. We hacked a hole in one wall and another in the opposite wall. After twenty minutes or so we could go back in. The smell of smoke permeated everything. We didn’t notice it much. The size of the fire was carefully regulated after that. Put a stovepipe on the list.
I had brought a tiny little solid pellet fueled stove with me and a metal canteen cup so I decided to make cocoa. Now, the cocoa that my mom confiscated was the one that had the sugar in it so when I slurped down a huge mouthful of the awful brew I barely made it to the door blowing it out with compressed air. “Wahg! Ick! Where’s the sugar,” I asked; rhetorically, it seemed. Nobody had brought any. Add sugar to the list.
Candles were lit when it got so dark we couldn’t discern the colors of Superman’s cape. Errant puffs of wind through our supposedly tight walls kept putting them out, or making the flame burn off-center enough to have a half-candle standing tall with the other half melted down to the base. Matches were dwindling pretty fast. Add them to the list.
By nightfall proper, we had exhausted all our jokes and were down the bodily noises in the dark. Benny entertained us with an amazingly loud medley of burps and belches. This act was followed by Xavier who managed to bring tears to our eyes – with his exhaust fumes. “Sorry, guys. Hot dogs just make me fart.” Take hot dogs off the list.
Somewhere around midnight, I guess, Bert got up and wandered around outside stubbing his toes at least six times trying to find a place to pee. He didn’t want to turn on his flashlight because then we ‘could see him pee’ and that just wasn’t acceptable. He had taken a candle, but it blew out and he hadn’t taken any matches with him. He finally found a spot. The sound of falling water affected the rest of us predictably so we all files out and created a small tsunami which flooded out at least one anthill.
Back inside, after whispering ghost stories to each other for a while we began to drop off one by one. I think that Benny was still talking when I drifted off to sleep.
I came awake suddenly for some reason. I couldn’t put a motivation to it, but my eyes just popped open. I lay silent, breathing very slowly listening for whatever it was that woke me. Bert, who was lying next to me, started pushing against my leg with his leg. I pushed back, but he kept bumping and pushing at me. With no warning, he began rolling over onto my stomach. “Hey! Dammit Bert. Move back over, whydontcha?” I said, and pushed back again.
“It’s not me, Tom. I’m over here.” His voice answered from across the fort. “Benny! Get your hairy arm off my face!”
“Whatd’ya mean me? I’m still in my sack. Kick Xavier instead.”
“It’s not me guys.” Said Xavier. “So who the hell is it?”
The only flashlight in the place flicked on and highlighted a huge apparition of an animal as it stood on it’s hind legs, transfixed and still, in the middle of five guys who were in the process of levitating. “AHHHHGH! What the fuckzat?” Screamed someone – who sounded remarkably like me.
All six of us tried to get out the door at the same time, which solved the problem of enough ventilation since the entire wall fell with a crash. The poor Opossum that had started all this carefully looked at us, snorted, and ambled down the path. We gathered all our bedding, which had been sucked out the door in the vacuum behind us as we left, and peeked into the fort to see if any more possums were forthcoming. None were found, but the hole we had noticed before and plugged with a rock was now rock-less. We figured he had to have come out of that hole and found we’d built a fort over him.
We decided that henceforth the fort would be known as Fort Possum.