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Annals of the F.O. Ranch, Chapter 1

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Peggy Cole is a self-published author who enjoys writing fiction stories, book reviews and articles about simpler times.

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A loud scream came from somewhere nearby, followed by a boat engine whining to an abnormally high pitch. There was a loud thump and the sound of splintering wood.

“Did you hear that?” someone asked.

“Hear what?” another answered.

"Sounded like somebody screaming," the first one said.

A third bleary-eyed camper struggled with a package of Twinkies. The plastic tore open with a force, sending the pastry into the center of the campfire. It looked like a flame-engulfed version of the cattails they'd seen at the shoreline.

“Oh, man!" he said. "That was awesome.” They watched, transfixed as the confection flamed and was consumed by the fire.

“Maybe I imagined it,” the first guy said, tilting his head toward the lake. He listened intently one finger raised as if to silence the group.

As suddenly as it had begun, the noise stopped, returning an eerie silence to the pitch-black woods. No one budged from the comfort of the fire. A few moments later twigs snapped along the path from the dock and raised voices drew closer.

Campside at the FO Ranch

Any seat vacated is up for grabs.

Any seat vacated is up for grabs.

“I thought you untied the bow!” one of the new arrivals said as two men joined the group.

“How was I supposed to do that?” his companion asked. “I was wearing the skis.”

“Yeah, but. . .” the sentence cut off abruptly as the two men stared into the fire where the Twinkie was still flaming.

“I think that one’s a goner,” Rob said in an exaggerated southern drawl. The other campers stared at the fire with a hint of sadness at the loss of a treasured confection.

“Hey, you guys all right?” Alan asked. He’d quickly claimed Rob’s vacant chair upwind of the fire when the pair left for their midnight run. Alan stood protectively in front of his recently-claimed chair.

Competition for seats at the campfire became an active sport of endurance. Beyond a point of pride in who could remain idle the longest, no one wanted to sit downwind of the smoky fire. Any chair vacated even briefly became fair game. Campers would resort to bribes to keep their chair filled. Often, young children could be convinced to hold someone’s place at the pit for the price of a candy bar or toasted marshmallow. But the night was late and the kids were asleep in their parents’ tents.

“Thanks for noticing,” Rob said with a laugh. He looked around taking in the lethargic campers transfixed on the fire.

“We could have drowned!” Jess chimed in. “The dock is wrecked!”

He reached for the coffee pot from the grill, a wire refrigerator rack resting on four blocks. Jess poured two cups of steaming liquid from the vessel scorched black by the fire and handed one to Rob.

“Gonna’ need scissors for this stuff. It’s been brewing since last winter.” Rob laughed at his own wit despite it being a well-worn joke. The coffee pot stayed on the fire all day and most of the night. “It looks like a long string of rubber,” he added. “Maybe we can use it to patch the boat.”

“Your rescue efforts were truly touching,” Jess told the group, trying not to grin.

“Hey, we knew you’d yell if you needed us, so we waited.” Alan offered this explanation for the apathy. “It’s the ‘FO’ way.” True to form, the other campers had been more worried about keeping their spot at the pit than curious about anything happening at the dock.

The moonlight skiers claimed the two vacant chairs in the direct drift of the smoke while chatter resumed, reenacting their water antics with charades for the captive group. In the absence of TV, no cell phone reception and the remote location, the group resorted to actual conversation the main appeal of the weekend getaways.

Triple FO

Sitting on the dock in the cool of the afternoon.

Sitting on the dock in the cool of the afternoon.

"Friend or Foe?" a disembodied voice suddenly broke the quiet.

"Oh, man!" Rob gasped. "I nearly jumped out of my skin."

Laughter erupted as the newcomer settled into an empty place in the circle of lawn chairs.

"I thought everyone would be asleep by now."

"Not a chance," someone else replied. "We're just getting started."

"What kept you so long?" a third guy asked. He tossed a log onto the pit sending up a spray of sparks from the glowing embers.

"Wreck on the highway had traffic blocked for a while." No one spoke as they absorbed the information. Someone finally asked the question on everyone’s mind but were too laid back to ask.

"Was anyone hurt?"

"Not sure," the newcomer answered. "By time I got up to where it happened, they were clearing away glass and stuff."

Someone poked the fire with a stick. A fresh stream of smoke rose from the wet log.

"Well, we're glad you made it." The new guy reached into his backpack, found a bottle and poured brown liquid into outstretched mugs.

"Drink up and get that guitar busy," Rob instructed.

Guitar man saluted smartly, smiled at the familiar faces around him and drained his cup. The guitar slung across his shoulder moved smoothly into position and he strummed a mournful chord.

The campers returned to their former campfire stupor, engulfed in the music and the sounds of the woods. Night creatures scurried, crickets chirped, an owl sounded its standard question and the night enveloped the camp.

Blue Bayou - Roy Orbison

© 2021 Peg Cole

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