“ughhhhhh” groaned Mike…not wanting to play the game, he was so miserable.
“Come-on Mike, it’s a knock knock joke, say it already.” Encouraged Frank.
“Who's there?” Mike groaned
“Atomic!” Frank declared delighted.
“Atomic who?” Mike responded slowly, reluctantly and in a painful way.
“Atomic ache!” Frank responded laughing hilariously.
“It wasn’t that funny, really.” Mike mumbled, annoyed with Frank’s over-the-top joy.
It was recess. Frank and Mike were sitting in their favorite spot along the fence, in the deep grass, under a tree on the edge of the school yard. Mike was miserable because his “topless nude” drawing was still missing. Someone out there had it. The frightening thing was his sketchbook had mysteriously re-appeared, in the guys cloakroom, which made him very afraid about where and when this drawing might also just accidentally re-appear.
“What if that drawing” Mike groaned, “will one day show up, laying on the teacher’s desk? You know then I would be in deep, deep, deep trouble!”
“The problem is we have no idea who left the sketchbook in the cloakroom.” Frank said. “We don’t really even know how long it might have been laying there before we saw it.”
“Great spies we are.” Mike mumbled.
“But we know the thief is in this school and that he left it out in the open away from any other school books and stuff.”
“Very smart of him to do that you know, now we don’t know who he is.”
There was silence, except for birds singing and grasshoppers buzzing. Frank loved this kind of "detective" talk where you tried to figure out what the bad guys were thinking and doing. He wanted to be a policeman some day so this just down his ally. When he took the time to think about it he realized something interesting. “I think," he said, speaking slowly and thoughtfully, "he actually made it kind of easy for us to see it, wouldn’t you say?”
“I’ll bet he wanted us to find it!” Mike exclaimed. “He really did want us to find it!” he declared slamming his hand on his knee.
“And, he purposely kept the “bad” picture.” Frank added, “someone right here in this school is just playing with us!”
“Probably watching us right now.” Mike whispered, putting his head down a bit and slowly looking towards the yard as if he might see someone with peering at them from over a rock or tree. Frank did the same instinctively. They sat there, two guys immobile, just staring out onto the schoolyard. All seemed so normal, kids playing soccer, or kids on the swings or just walking around. No one seemed to notice them at all. It was hard to believe that someone they knew, right in this school had done this. He could be sitting right next to them in class! It made them nervous and suspicious of everyone, even people they liked. Who could this be?
Without moving Mike spoke. “What are we going to do about someone watching us and messing with us like this?” Frank noticed he said it in this weird monotone kind of whisper.
Without moving a muscle, eyes scanning the yard, Frank used the same flat tone, “You know you have a drawing to finish, its due day after tomorrow you know. Maybe you need to work on that, finish it up and hand that in before it’s too late. Then we can think about what to do next.”
“Let’s wear camouflage tomorrow!” Mike said. He had no idea where that came from. Probably something from TV.
Frank did not move, “I like that, let’s do it.”
Mike had had a hard time getting anything camouflage for the next day. His family was not into hunting of any kind. They had a 22 rifle but it was used just for shooting whatever on butchering day. They also shot gophers once in a while, but that was it.
The best he could come up with was a T-Shirt in a green color, which he wore under one of his checked red and blue shirts. He also had a pair of pants in a kaki green that did not match the T-Shirt or his shirt. His mother thought he looked terrible.
When he got to school, he rode his horse across the yard towards the barn. He noticed the barn door was open so ducked his head and rode right through the open door into the barn. His horse
“Doll” knew her stall and went right into it. He slid off, tied her up to the manger, loosened her saddle and came out walking in the centre of the isle out towards the open barn door.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw movement in the shadow of an empty stall and could only yell as something launched itself right towards him. In a second it slammed into him, taking him right off his feet. Doll, hearing him yell, jumped in fright. Mike landed on his back with this wild “thing” on top of him. It knocked the wind right out of him and he couldn’t breathe, he tried to fend it off, his arms flailing in panic as he fought for air. Slowly he began to hear a voice “….it’s me Frank, it’s me, hold it it’s just me!” It sounded like Frank’s voice, but he wasn’t sure…he began to get some air and saw a weird streaked face, inches from his own face, grinning at him. Then he heard the voice and recognized it as Franks!
Frank finally rolled off him and he sat up gasping, holding his throat. The two boys sat across from each other on the barn floor, straw sticking to their clothing, looking at one another in wonder. Frank wondering about Mike’s breathing and Mike wondering who this was that sounded like Frank but didn’t look like Frank.
This Frank had a face streaked and smudged with something like black grease. Only the whites of his eyes and teeth stood out. He looked so freaky. His streaked face was surrounded by a camouflage, tuque and hood. Then he noticed that his whole body was covered with camouflage! “Wow Frank, is that you?” Mike gasped when he could finally talk! “You are crazy man, just crazy!”
“See,” Frank said, “you could not see me could you? This camouflage stuff really works eh? This guy who’s watching us will
not see me today. Your idea of wearing camouflage is going to work really good, you didn't see me at all did you? Ha!” He was all excited at his success in sneaking up on Mike.
“Don’t worry Frank, our teacher, for one thing, will see you real clear and you’re not going to like what she has to say about your get up. You’re going to have to take all that grease off your face and let us all see that ugly mug of yours again!
That day Mike chose a picture from his scrapbook for the contest. It was one of his parents and sister eating lunch out on the field during harvest time. They were sitting on the back of their half ton truck tailgate, the dinner set up between them. Their combine stood in the background against the prairie sky. He thought it fit the theme pretty good. After a bit of added work here and there he handed it in to his teacher. This picture surprised her as she’d been watching him in class, working on the drawing of a horse. She pointed out some features of the work, complimenting him on his shading technique and so on. She also remarked on how it was just perfect for the theme of the contest.
Mike appreciated her comments but was unsure about how to take them. Since hardly anyone else in the community ever encouraged or complimented him on his art, was she being truthful? Possibly she wasn’t lying, maybe she did not really know much about art and was just being nice. If he was actually that good, others outside of the school should also be noticing. It was all very confusing for Mike.
A week later his teacher announced the winners from their school who would have their art entered into the provincial art contest. Mike’s was one of the three chosen for his grade category. His artwork had advanced to be in the provincial contest.
Mike found it hard to celebrate because he was worried about his stolen piece of artwork.
Frank tried his best to encourage Mike. “Knock Knock," he said.
Mike tried to ignore him. "Hey, listen Mike, knock knock…” he insisted.
Mike groaned, “Who's there?” he said reluctantly.
“Avenue heard the good news?” Frank yelled with glee!
“Awe shut up and go grease your face Frank," Mike could not help grinning, "that’s awful!"
(To be continued)
Photo by Cliff Derksen