“I could kill Aaron Timms.”
I stared at my friend, Iris Chastain. She had wild black hair and a lazy eye. A patch covered her good eye. The popular kids at school, led by Aaron Timms, called her Captain Chastain when they weren’t calling her Crazy Iris. Her braces made her mouth swollen all the time and when she talked, she sounded like she was drunk.
“You don’t mean literally, do you?” I asked. We were on a weekend camping trip with our church’s youth group, not the best environment for a crime spree.
“Depends on opportunity, I guess,” Iris answered.
All the girls in her family were named after the flowers in the Burpee Seed catalog. Iris has two older sisters — Rose and Daisy. “I was one page away from being a Petunia,” she told me when we met in fourth grade.
I have some sympathy for unusual names. My first name, Deborah, is okay, but my last name is Chubbs. I’m what my mom calls ‘a robust weight’ so naturally Aaron and gang tagged me with ‘Chubby Chubbs.’ Not very imaginative, but exactly what I expected from the set that never had to rely on their brains to get ahead.
“No time for murder, we’ve got to get our tent set up.” I stared at the pile of dung colored canvas on the ground. The tent belonged to Iris’s dad, and looked like it had been used to shelter soldiers in the first World War. It smelled like dust and cat pee.
“I know I packed the tent pegs, that ass-wipe hid them,” Iris said as she stretched out a length of rope.
“Language!” I glanced over my shoulder at our Youth Minister, Brother Cal Everly, but he was busy on the other side of the campground gathering firewood.
Aaron and his buddy Josh had been in charge of unloading the trailer stocked with all our camping supplies.
“Hey Chubbs, catch!” Aaron called and chunked forty pounds of canvas toward me. The rolled-up tent landed at my feet.
“Where’s the bag with the stakes?” Iris asked.
“You mean this empty sack?” Aaron shook a limp drawstring pouch at us.
“What happened to the stakes?”
“Didn’t see them.” Aaron smirked. He was the only boy in 8th grade with a mustache, if you could call it that. Lorna Batelli had more hair on her upper lip, but she shaved.
“Come on.” I tugged at Iris’s sleeve. “We can look later, let’s get our spot.”
“I’m sorry, girls.” Brother Cal’s voice echoed from the empty trailer. “There’s nothing else in here.”
Over on the boys’ side of the camp I spotted Aaron laughing as he set up his tent, a fluorescent orange A-frame.
“You can sleep in the RV with me if you want,” Miss Birdy, our other chaperone, said.
“That’s okay.” Iris was quick to turn down the offer. “We’ll figure something out.”
Miss Birdy was part of the group our church called “Golden Agers.” She loved volunteering with the youth group. I guess everyone else she knew was dead. That afternoon she was dressed in a Bicentennial t-shirt with a picture of Gerald Ford on the front, blue jeans with an elastic waistband, and hot pink sneakers. Her frizzy brown wig curled up on her head like a feral cat.
“Maybe we should have taken Miss Birdy up on her offer.” I sniffed at a suspicious stain on the canvas tent.
“And wake up smelling like mentholated arthritis cream in the morning?” Iris snorted. “Not me, thanks.”
We stretched a rope between two trees, and draped the canvas over it. Brother Cal found a couple of extra stakes and we managed to pull the tent sides out enough to fit two sleeping bags inside.
After dinner that evening the group gathered around the campfire for what Brother Cal enthusiastically called “fellowship.” After the fifth round of Kum Ba Ya, I leaned toward the fire and poked a stick against what looked suspiciously like a wooden tent peg.
“Hey! Those are my tent pegs!” Iris leapt up from her camp chair, and Miss Birdy had to grab her arm to prevent her from jumping into the fire. Iris could have been trying to hurdle the flames and get within punching distance of Aaron Timms.
“Looks like firewood to me,” Aaron’s buddy, Josh said.
“Now let’s all calm down.” Brother Cal addressed Iris, the only agitated member of the group. “I’m sure this was a mistake, but the boys owe you an apology.”
“I’m sorry, Iris.” Aaron said as he shrugged. “But why did you have wooden stakes? Were you hunting vampires?”
“How about a bible verse before we turn in for the night?” Brother Cal interrupted Iris before she could answer. “Iris?” he asked, “would you do us the favor of reading?” Brother Cal handed her a heavy black leather bible.
“I’d love to read.” Iris flipped through the pages at the front of the book. “The Book of Judges,” she said.
Oh boy, I thought. Iris loved the Old Testament, especially the parts with bloody battles and lots of smiting.
“Judges 4:21,” Iris read, “Then Jael Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.” Iris slammed the bible shut and grinned at Aaron. Her lazy eye rolled in its socket.
“Uh, yes, an important lesson about obedience to God,” Brother Cal muttered. “We’ll have to take up more of the story of Jael later.”
After a rambling prayer from Miss Birdy, in which she blessed the raccoons she’d heard foraging around her RV, the group broke up and we all went to our tents.
I lay awake, imagining the snores from Betty Johnson’s tent were the snuffling of a family of bears. Were there alligators in the lake? Snakes sliding through the brush? What about the vampires Aaron mentioned earlier?
“Deb,” Iris poked me with her foot. “Wake up,” she whispered.
“I’m not asleep.” I pulled my sleeping bag over my head to shut out the sight of Iris hovering over me. She held her flashlight under her chin and the light made her face a Halloween mask.
“I need you, come on.” She switched off the flashlight and we stepped out into the glow from the full moon.
I followed her out of the tent because she was my friend. I didn’t notice the hammer until we were standing next to Aaron’s tent.
Iris held a finger to her lips and bent to pull up one of the metal tent pegs holding the ropes on Aaron’s tent. When she lifted the flap covering the front of the tent and bent down to peer inside, I pictured us in prison instead of high school.
“Iris!” Aaron may have stuck gum in my hair in sixth grade, but he didn’t deserve to die.
“Shhh…” Iris hissed at me and motioned to the back of the tent. She handed me the tent peg she’d pulled from the ground. “Get the other one on this side and when I say ‘Go’, run.”
I understood then what she planned. When we yanked the last pegs, the tent flopped down across its occupant. I raced off as Iris let out a yowl, like a wounded bobcat. Her cry was answered by Aaron, as he screamed and fought off the orange nylon.
Iris beat me back to our tent and we turned around and jogged right back to the boys’ side of the camp.
“There’s something in my tent!” Aaron stood before the collapsed tent in his underwear, dingy white Fruit of the Looms. The rest of our youth group gathered around.
“Let’s see.” Brother Cal stooped and shook out the tent. A furry lump plopped into the circle of light from his flashlight.
“What are you doing with my wig?” Miss Birdy, dressed in her flannel nightgown and satin cap, picked up the sad hairpiece. She squinted at Aaron. He picked up his tent and wrapped the orange nylon around his waist.
“I wasn’t doing anything,” he said. “I thought it was a possum or something, and it knocked down my tent.”
“Don’t you know how to drive in a tent peg?” Iris held up one of the metal stakes. “A possum?” Iris snorted.
“How did you get Miss Birdy’s wig?” I whispered to Iris.
“She woke up, but I think she thought I was a raccoon.”
In a show of goodwill, Iris helped Brother Cal set up Aaron’s tent. I thought she pounded in the tent pegs with a little too much enthusiasm. The rest of our weekend camping trip was uneventful. Becky Harrison declared her love for Jesus after a communion of S’mores, and Miss Birdy put her wig on after she brushed the leaves out.
That weekend was the end of Aaron Timms. The tent story got around school and someone christened him with a new nickname — Wiggy Possum. This was a more creative title than Chubby Chubbs, but there might have been some behind the scenes help from one of the not-so-popular kids getting it started. I’ll never tell.