“Ben’s Great Idea”

         Ben’s Dad lived up to his word. Every day after school that week Ben was stuck doing chores. Cleaning the garage wasn’t so bad or even washing the cars. But tilling the garden was real work. The ground had been hard packed from the winter snows. But he did it without complaint.

         Early Saturday morning Ben pounded on his parents’ bedroom door. “Hey Dad.”

         “It’s early Ben, what do ya want?”

         “Can I hang out with my friends today?”

         “Think you can be home on time from now on?”

         “Yeah, I promise!”

         “Okay then, now go away and don’t bother us.”

         Ben straddled the rail and slid to the bottom of the stairs. A dash to the kitchen for a bowl, Sugar Pops, milk and a spoon. He could inhale a bowl of cereal, while standing, in 90 seconds flat. No sense wasting time eating when you could be on an adventure was his philosophy.

He darted to the back door, leaving the bowl, the cereal box and the open milk carton on the table. The screen flew open as he pushed hard banging it against the stop. He hopped on his bike and headed for the airport. As he rode, he could faintly hear his father, “please don’t slam…, too late.”

         Ben sped down the street and around the corner. That street ended at a trail which continued to a foot bridge over the creek. He stood up to pedal as he bounced across the bumpy bridge and into the fresh cut hay field next to the airport. He could ride almost anywhere with those fat knobby tires. Standing made it easier for him to see the gopher holes and irrigation ditches, less chance of turfing.

         Once he reached the hangar, he raced around to the front. Then he stopped, straddled his bike and sighed, no pickup. He reached for the rusty lock on the giant sliding doors and gave it a yank. It was doing its’ job.

         He glanced at his watch. It was a Timex with lots of buttons, big numbers that glowed at night, a compass and a green and brown camo wrist band. Two more minutes and it would be exactly 7:00am. Perhaps this was a little early for  Grandpa Jimmy.

          Ben decided to wait, hoping the old guy would show up before the top-secret meeting at ten. He laid his bike on the ground, then sat down and leaned against the hangar. The warmth of the sun felt good on this chilly morning. His eyes slowly closed as his head tilted to one side. He jerked as he brought himself back to consciousness and opened his eyes to check his watch, 7:03am. Seconds seemed like minutes and minutes felt like hours.

          Just when he was about to give up, he heard a gunshot. He jumped to his feet, who was shooting? Turned out, it was the sound of the backfire from Grandpa Jimmy’s tired pickup. It rolled to a stop in front of the hangar with a belch and puff of smoke.

         Grandpa Jimmy climbed out. “Is that you Ben?”

         “Yes Sir.”

         “What are you doin here this mornin?”

         “Had somthin to ask you.”

         “Well, help me slide this door open and we’ll go in and talk. I’m gonna fix myself a cup of coffee, you want one?”

         “Nah, but thanks.”

         Grandpa Jimmy moved a little slow. Seemed to Ben like it took forever to get the lights on and coffee goin.  “So, what’s so important that you were waitin for me?”

         “Well, would it be okay if I brought some of my friends to your hangar. It’s an awesome place, especially with that old plane sittin there. They’d like hangin out here.”

         “How many of ya are there?”

         “Five.”

         “Sure, thata be okay.”

         “Thanks, I’ll be back with em in a little while. Oh yeah, are you still gonna be here?”

         “Be here all day.”

         Ben dashed out of the hangar and raced home. Tali was waiting for him in the tree house and Jold was just comin up the street with Bandit trailing close behind. Jold  coasted part way up the driveway, then hopped off and pushed his bike the rest of the way. He considers peddling up a steep driveway an unnecessary effort, especially with a Baby Ruth candy bar in one hand.

         Jold is a sixth grader in Ben’s class too. Ms. Adams often walks by his desk and taps him on the shoulder to bring him back to the real world. “What are you dreaming about today, Jold?” she asks. Ben and Tali love his answers. They’re usually so hysterical that the whole class ends up laughing.

         Like the time he explained why having his dog, Bandit, in the class room would help the kids learn better. He ended the unbelievable explanation with a description of Bandit’s ability to communicate telepathically, “some dogs can really do that, ya know,” he would say.

         “Ben and Jold walked around to the old oak tree in Ben’s back yard. Ben climbed up where Tali was waiting. Then he lowered a basket tied to a rope for Bandit. Even a telepathic dog couldn’t climb a tree. Jold lifted Bandit into the basket. Having done this before, he sat motionless while Ben pulled him up. Then Jold climbed the rickety ladder, pausing after each step to take a breath. “Why do we have a clubhouse in a tree?”

         Kate arrived next. She sits in the middle of the front row in their sixth-grade class next to Tali. “Smart kids always sit in front,” she likes to say. Her auburn red hair is usually tied back in a ponytail with a brightly colored scrunchie or stretchy band with lots of bling. It makes her an unmistakable target for spit wads from behind. The strings in her tennis shoes always match the scrunchie. Earrings, necklace and bracelet are a whole other matter. Couldn’t possibly sit in the front row without them.

         Willy arrived last. He came running and jumped for the third rung on the ladder. Two more steps and he was up. Willy’s dad owns the Burger King in Buena Vista, a frequent meeting place for free burgers. His mom is the second-grade teacher at their school and serves as a playground monitor during recess. Seldom does a day go by that Willy’s mom doesn’t peek through the window of his sixth-grade class. Nearly every time, someone notices. “It your Mommy, Willy, checkin up on ya,” they’ll say with a chuckle.  She’s the reason Willy is so looking forward to middle school.

         Even straight “A’s” haven’t restrained his Mom’s compulsive need to spy, but they’ve been rewarded. Like the cool drone she bought Willy after his last report card, a UPAIR 4K Plus. It pairs to an old phone for a live video feed. But no cell service until Willy is at least 13 years old, a Dad rule. The rest of the gang’s parents have pretty much the same rule.

         Between Willy’s drone and Ben’s, I never leave home without my Garmin Xtreck GPS and pocket multi tool, they’re convinced they could survive anywhere in the mountains. The time would come when that assumption would be tested.

         Willy was certain he had spotted Big Foot in the forest while flying his drone above the tree tops a few days earlier. He wanted the gang to hike into the forest with him and photograph the creature. He was sure they could make history with his world changing discovery. So far, Jold was the only one who believed a Big Foot just might exist.

         For now, Ben had other ideas. High fives and fist bumps opened the meeting. “So what’s up,” said Kate.

         “I found a really cool place for our clubhouse. You know the old hangar I ride past on the way home, right?”

         “Yeah.”

         “Well, Grandpa Jimmy, he’s the guy who owns it, showed me around and there’s a plane inside. He’s said it would be okay if I brought my friends by to look around. So, let’s ask if we can use the hangar for our clubhouse.”

         “You think he would let us do that?” asked Jold.

         “For sure, no worries. I talked to him this morning and he said I could bring my friends any time today.”

         “Let’s go,” said Willy. 

         Another high five and the meeting was over. “Bandit, get in the basket,” said Jold. He hopped in without hesitation, even seemed to enjoy his personal doggie elevator ride to the ground. Ben, Kate, Willy and Tali slid down the rope. If ya didn’t wrap the rope around one leg tight, your hands would get rope burn for sure. Jold took his time on the ladder.  

         Off they rode, pedaling full speed for the hangar. Well, at least four of them did. Jold trailed behind at his own pace. “Come on boy, let’s go,” Jold said as if he were waiting on Bandit. The truth is, Bandit was far ahead. So much so that he had time to stop, smell the bushes and mark his territory, all before Jold caught up.

         They raced over the rickety bridge, across the bumpy hay field and around to the front side of the hangar. Ben was in the lead, but his excitement quickly turned to disappointment as he coasted to a stop in front of the hangar doors. No pickup, doors closed and locked. He stared at Tali in disbelief.

         “He said he would be here,” Ben exclaimed.

         She could see the disappointment in his eyes. “It’ okay Ben, I’m sure he’ll be here soon.”

         Then Ben noticed something wedged between the doors under the padlock.  “What’s that?”

 

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