The sun raised itself over the skyline, shining brightly through the open windows of Al’s room. The two rose in sync everyday, but Al did so less gracefully. The slender, earth brown skinned 10-year-old boy thrived on filling each day up to the brim with adventures. He stretched his especially long arms above his body, frowning at first at the scent of his unwashed armpits, then he threw his body backwards onto his pillow and laughed as he recalled yesterday.
He and three of his friends went into the nearby woods behind Old Man Chuck’s house. They’d been waiting to sneak into his back yard for weeks, but it seemed Chuck was always home. They knew his yard was full of all kinds of tall fruit trees and their mission was a two part competition. One, to see who could climb the tallest tree, and two, who could eat most of the fruits.
Even though he had many acres of land, Old Man Chuck didn’t share any of his crops with people freely. Everything he gave away he did so in sales. He spent his money on one thing – meat. There wasn’t a time you could walk by his house and it didn’t smell like smokehouse BBQ or deep fried meat. As far as the boys knew, he wasn’t shy about trying any kind of animal.
Al once loved the smells emitting from Old Man Chuck’s place up until a few weeks ago. He once had a pet chicken named Chick Old Man Chuck always had his eyes on. Chick was quite faithful, always producing eggs for Al and his mother Lou. She never left their yard where she had her own tree for her nest and lots of food the mother and son left her daily.
One day Chick disappeared when Lou was at work. Al had gotten out of school early that day because of a holiday. He was going to feed Chick and tell her all about his day as soon as he got home, but she was not in her usual spots. Al called out for Chick several times and then began looking around the neighborhood when he couldn’t find her. Though it was rare, she’d gotten out before.
When he heard her familiar cluck near Old Man Chuck’s place, he immediately knew something was wrong: she sounded distressed. Following the sound, he came upon Old Man Chuck slitting Chick’s voice box from her shaking feathered body. Al screamed and ran back home, trying to get rid of the image. When Lou got home, he told her what Old Man Chuck did, but Lou didn’t believe him, even after Chick hadn’t shown up weeks later either.
So, as great as those smells were, Al couldn’t relish in it like his friends knowing his pet was cut from life by the throat, de-feathered one-at-a-time, simmered in some secret sauce, and fried deeply. If anything, the scents made him sad. Since Chick’s disappearance, he hasn’t been able to eat chicken again. Invading Old Man Chuck’s backyard to take his fruits was the ultimate revenge as well as good old fashion fun.
Yesterday, luckily, Old Man Chuck’s house didn’t smell much like meat when he and his friends snuck in. Al’s closest friend Gordi won the tree climbing contest. The boys spent half an hour stuffing themselves with fruits, but Al ate the most. All the boys grabbed a few extra fruits to go, but in the end, Al didn’t feel completely victorious because Chick was still gone.
Now there was today, filled with the pre-planned promise of games at the river. The water was strongest in the afternoon and it rushed aggressively from the hilly rocks. The boys always had a good time pretending to be knocked over the water’s silky kung fu, or they’d pretend one among them was master of the water.
He ate breakfast quickly, but finishing his chores seemed painfully long. As soon as he was done, Al rushed out the door before Lou could ask him to do anything else. He ran at a steady pace towards the river with bright, eager eyes. On his way was Gordi’s house and his friend was already ready to run as Al turned the corner. The two laughed as they ran, pushing each other here and there, even pretending to be speeding cars on the highway overtaking each other.
As they neared the river, the boys slowed down to catch their breaths. They reminisced about their Old Man Chuck adventure, each taking a turn to tell the other about their favorite part, the funniest thing that happened, and the best tree they climbed. It made Al feel better somehow. Maybe it was enough revenge.
As they rounded the corner, they both grinned simultaneously. Al jumped and punched the air upward in excitement while Gordi spun on the spot with a little dance. A few boys were already there. Some were already naked and running around playing pregames. Others were standing around talking about their weekend. However, it wasn’t noon quite yet and so no one was allowed to touch the sacred cow dung.
Every couple of weeks the local farmers took a slew of cows to be simultaneously slaughtered. This morning was the day for the migration. While he was doing his morning chores, the cows and farmers had already gone by. On the reddish ground now laid several piles of cow dung, which had plenty of time to set in the sun and be ready for play. It was a perfect day for the Shitty Games.
Gordi ran off, removing his shirt as he went. Al just stood there for a moment, inspecting some nearby dung to see how soft it still was. He was the best player and everyone knew and acknowledged it. Depending on the mood, he’d either be targeted by everyone or they’d focus on being the final target in order to face him off one on one. The winner got to jump in the river first and pick the first of many river games of the day.
He didn’t have time to catch a word with anyone. Someone was yelling there was one minute until noon while another mooed ecstatically – as was custom. Al quickly stripped and threw his clothes on the nearest branch. The warm summer breeze felt knowing and soothing against his complete bareness.
The boys didn’t get embarrassed by the nudity and the girls in the area learned long ago to stay away from the river when the Shitty Games were happening. Even if you wanted to sneak a peek, being caught by several naked boys would be overwhelming for anyone to dare. The adults sometimes came to collect water in buckets for the week and watch the boys play, laughing nostalgically. The only noticeable differences about the clothelessness were the boys who had already began to develop their pubic hair. It was inspiring for the younger boys like Al.
The boy who signaled the final minute to noon began to moo. Each boy started making the sound until the river sounded like a farm of alert and ready to go cow-boys.
Then it began.
Boys were reaching for dung, some hard, some soft, some both, and all somewhat smelly… arms were thrown back in anticipation of hitting a target… naked bodies were dodging brown wet or hard cow dung ammo… endless dung flew through the air seeking a target.… With each hit, “POO DOWN” was yelled in victory and the process would repeat itself continuously until most of the boys were eliminated.
Al was fast. He always won because he was the fastest. He played several ways, but mostly he left the throwing to everyone else and spent the time dodging hits, only throwing when he was clear of being hit and sure he wouldn’t miss a throw. Most of the boys got so lost in the fun they had no strategy, but Al wanted to both win and have fun by lasting in the game.
The messy and smelly parade of 30 pubescent boys dwindled down to five in less than 10 minutes. Al had ducked more dung than he could count and had managed to eliminate 5 boys, his record number. The most any boy had knocked out of the games was seven. Usually everyone took to teams to reduce the number or they played freely. Today was the latter.
The five remaining boys positioned themselves as far apart as possible. When nothing happened for thirty seconds, someone yelled, “CLOSE THE POOP HOLE!”. The boys dropped their dung where they stood and all went into the middle of the road. They stood back to back as was customary and waited for the ten second count off.
TEN, all the boys began to try to locate the nearest dung they could reach to aim and fire… SEVEN, then they had to decide if they wanted to go for it or take defense and who they’d try to take out… FOUR, Al decided to grab the nearest one, accessing he could make it there in time and dodge any incoming dung… ONE!
Two boys ran for the same ammo, one took cover, while Gordi and Al went after ammo. Al swiftly took out one of the two aiming for the same ammo (“POOP DOWN!”) while Gordi caught the boy who was trying to take cover (“POOP DOWN”), leaving three. The boys quickly spread out again and it was clear they weren’t leaving their spots now.
“CLOSE THE POOP HOLE!” someone said 30 seconds later. The boys moved to the center again and stood back to back to reset the games. TEN… most of the dung was far away at this point, but Al felt confident, even if one of the final boys was Gordi. FIVE… he had a plan. ONE!
Al rushed toward the dung Gordi went after and made it just in time. He threw the dung at his friend and luckily Gordi took the hit of the third boy’s dung as well. Al quickly caught the falling wet ammo from his friend’s body and threw it at the third boy, whom it nearly missed.
Suddenly, the chant of boys erupted singing “MOO POO, AL! MOO POO, AL!”. They all ran towards Al with a hand of dung and threw it at him since he went through the entire game dung free. Al laughed and hid his face, feeling happy.
Gordi and the second place boy hoisted Al up on their shoulders while all the boys continued singing, “MOO POO, AL! MOO POO, AL!”. They threw Al into the river and the rest of the boys jumped in, too. It was a good day for forgiveness and the Shitty Games.