By Van & Zack © 2002
Our Story Begins
It was a pleasant June day in upstate New York. A caravan of two vans and a car pulled off of the secondary road and stopped in front of a weathered farmhouse. Six adults and a mob of children piled out of the vehicles. While the adults unloaded luggage the younger generation scattered, some into the woods that crowded close to the house and others into the dilapidated barn.
The front door of the house opened and a young woman walked out onto the porch. She was about twenty and had long, straight, red hair and a well-tanned complexion (with a liberal sprinkling of freckles.) She was also in very good shape: an athletic yet slender figure, narrow waist, long legs, well-toned arms and shoulders, and full breasts; all of which were showcased by her chosen costume of cut-off denim shorts, white cotton tank top, and sport sandals. She also had a gorgeous face, lit by a welcoming smile: full lips, button nose, high cheekbones, and hazel eyes with a charming, doe-like slant.
The driver of the lead van stretched and ran one hand through his short, sandy hair, then smiled broadly and called a greeting. "Hi, Melissa! We finally got here. Is everything in the house OK?"
The farm had been out of production for forty years and its several hundred acres was now mostly covered by second growth forest. The main house, the only habitable structure on the property, was in good repair, but it was only occupied when the grown children who had inherited it used it for vacations.
"Hi Bill," Melissa replied. "Yes, I did some cleaning and it's livable. The kids can pitch in and help finish the job."
The man joined Melissa on the porch and they shared a friendly hug. "All of us, especially your sisters, really appreciate that you're willing to watch the little savages while we go on our tour."
A woman joined them. She was an older version of Melissa, only her hair was cut in a short crop and her eyes were green. "Yes, Melissa," she said. "It's wonderful that you agreed to do this. Are you sure you can handle it? This is your last chance to back out."
"Of course, we'll never speak to you again if you do," Bill added.
The trio laughed and Melissa and the woman kissed. "Hi, Helen," Melissa said. "Oh, I'll be OK. Nothing can go wrong that I can't take care of."
"We stopped across the road at the Trudeau farm and I had a word with Mrs. Trudeau," Helen said. "She agreed to be available as a backup if you need one. Oh, I also saw Pierre. He said he would be there all summer. He'll be a senior at Dartmouth next fall, you know. He seemed very nice. I remember you and he were good friends once, but that must have been five years ago. Mrs. Trudeau would watch the kids if you want to go out with him."
Melissa's smile turned frosty. "That's not going to happen."
"Oh, what's wrong?"
"He's a male chauvinist pig", Melissa stated. "You wouldn't believe what he said to me."
Helen and Bill exchanged a knowing glance. (They weren't really surprised.) Melissa had just finished her sophomore year, and thought she knew everything; and her propensity to push any and every available guy away on the slightest pretext was well known to her family. Helen sighed. "What did the 'pig' say?" she asked, her lips curled in a sardonic smile.
"I pointed out that our patriarchal society was just a cultural artifact, and he disagreed! He said that patterns that appear in many cultures throughout history are based on innate differences between men and women! Can you believe that?"
"The monster!" Bill muttered, perfectly deadpan (and received a surreptitious warning jab in the ribs from his smiling sister.)
"Yes, and he was so insulting!" Melissa continued (missing the exchange.) "He talked to me as though I were a child. I couldn't stand his patronizing attitude. I was so mad I slapped him."
"What did he do then?" Helen gasped.
"Well, nothing," Melissa admitted, "except he said that when a woman hits a man she is relying on a cultural taboo to avoid being hit back, and didn't this violate my principles of sexual equality? He's hopeless. I'll never speak to him again."
Bill started to say something, but Helen gave him the dreaded look. Wisely, he held his tongue and turned to face the yard. "Kids!" he shouted. "Form up out front!"
It took a while, but eventually the seven children were milling around the yard. "OK kids, we're going now. You behave yourselves and do as your Aunt Melissa tells you. Melissa, you have my cell phone number, and if things get out of hand, call me, and we can be here a day later. Two at the most." He glared at the exuberant children. "I speak for all of your parents when I promise you that punishment will be severe if you give Melissa any trouble."
Melissa was confident she could manage the children. "Don't worry, I'm sure I'll get nothing but cooperation and we'll all have a great time." The children nodded vigorously.
"OK, we'll be back on the third. Good luck."
There was a confused scene of hugs and good-bye kisses, and then the three couples got into the largest van and drove off.
One of the children, a girl of fourteen, climbed onto the porch and gave Melissa a warm hug. She had red hair but, despite her shorter stature, easily twice as many freckles as her aunt.
"Hello, Aunt Melissa. It's nice to see you again. How is everything?"
"Fine, Cheryl. The second year of college was a lot easier than the first."
"Have you chosen a major yet?"
"Yes, I'm taking Womyn's Studies."
"Oh, I like Home Economics," Cheryl said, smiling sweetly as she pushed past Melissa (who was gasping like a fish out of water) and through the screen door.
A twelve-year-old girl with blonde hair, blue eyes, and smooth, tan skin bounded up the stairs and gave Melissa a hug and a kiss. "She's jerkin' yer chain," the girl whispered.
Melissa blushed and returned the girl's hug. "Hi Janet," she mumbled.
Janet gave her aunt a second kiss and followed her redheaded cousin into the house. She giggled at Melissa's shocked expression. Janet was clever for a twelve-year-old, and she admired Cheryl's jest.
Melissa recovered with a visible effort and shouted at the pack of children still in the yard. "Boys! Get your suitcases inside. You too, Emily."
The four boys and a girl (the youngest of the group) picked up their luggage and trooped into the house.
The oldest boy smiled brightly. "Hello, Aunt Melissa. Is lunch ready yet?"
"In a few minutes, Mike. Take your stuff to your room. You, Tommy, and your brothers have the big room to the left of the stairs. Emily, you're with Janet and Cheryl in the room on the right."
Tommy was nervous. "I want to be with my sister."
"It's OK, Tommy." Melissa said, giving the twelve-year-old a reassuring hug. "You'll like it with your cousins. Cheryl will be right next door."
Tommy was still uncertain. Mike put an arm around his shoulders and said in a friendly voice, "You'll be OK, Tommy. Andy, Jeremy, and me will take care of you." Tommy allowed himself to be led up the stairs.
Melissa smiled. Mike was big for his fourteen years and (truth be told) not the brightest intellect in the family, but he had a good heart. Melissa knew he really would do his best to take care of Tommy. Melissa's smile faded as she turned and headed for the kitchen to get out the sandwich makings. This'll be good for Tommy, she mused. Maybe this summer we can get him out of his shell a little. God knows the kid needs it.
ON THE WARPATH
The next several days went well. Melissa would rise before dawn and run a few miles, timing things to get back in time to supervise breakfast. Once Mike joined her, and to Melissa's surprise had no difficulty keeping up. He mumbled something about running to get in shape for football and (with a carefully hidden but disdainful sniff) Melissa changed the subject.
In addition to exploring the woods, the boys and girls continued the tradition of skinny-dipping in the creek. A very picturesque waterfall fell into a quiet pool, and generations of the family had fond childhood memories of frolicking in its cool, deep waters. Things were kept carefully proper, of course. Mike was in charge of male swim time, being a good swimmer and a Junior Lifesaver, and Melissa herself supervised the girls. This was one of the rare occasions when the "Womyn's Studies" major was untroubled by sexual segregation.
And then "The Game" reared its ugly, sexist head.
After watching a video of The Last of the Mohicans one night, the group unanimously agreed to transform the farm (and the surrounding "Wilderness") into the frontier during the French and Indian War.
Cheryl had read the book, and she was especially enthusiastic. "Did you know that some of the battles of the war occurred in this very area, not too far from here?"
Mike exclaimed, "Wow! Really? Do you think we might find some arrowheads?"
"It's possible. Keep your eyes open."
Melissa endorsed the idea, with the proviso that Native American society would not be mocked and cultural trappings (as far as was practical) would be reproduced with something like authenticity.
Mike was confused. "Why were some of the Indians friends while others were enemies?"
Cheryl explained. "The Hurons were allied with the French and the Mohawks were allied with the English... I think. There were a whole bunch of different tribes on both sides and a lot of them were traditional enemies, so they would always fight each other anyway. In our game lets have the boys be Hurons and the girls be English. OK?"
As usual, Emily (ever the tomboy) wanted to be one of the guys. "I want to be a Huron. Those women in the movie were wimps." The tribe compromised by making her an "Indian Princess."
"I can be like Princess Tiger Lily!" the precocious ten-year-old exclaimed.
"That's a stupid name," Andy observed (tactlessly.)
"I said like Princess Tiger Lily," dipstick!" Emily responded, punching Andy in the arm.
Mike, the Huron chief (of course) intervened. "You can be a princess, Princess," he agreed, "and we'll think up a name later."
"How 'bout 'Dances with Barbies?'" Jeremy suggested, and the inevitable wrestling match ensued.
Tommy stated, "I want to be on Cheryl's team." He had a stubborn look, and the children knew that arguing would not do any good.
Cheryl had an idea. "OK, Tommy, you can be Hawkeye. You act as the scout for the English and rescue Janet and me if we get captured."
Once the roles were assigned the children threw themselves into making the costumes and equipment. The movie video and Melissa's laptop (with its dial-up link to the Internet) were availed for research and tasks were assigned. By prior agreement lots of craft supplies had been included in the luggage, and woodworking tools were available in the barn. The boys began making tomahawks and war clubs. They used pieces of an old tire for the business ends, and after a little paint and feathers, the results were surprisingly good. Melissa disapproved of the weapons, but relented after Cheryl and Mike explained you can't hunt imaginary game if you don't have imaginary weapons; however (with the proverbial lecture about eyes being put out), she drew the line at bows and arrows. The children agreed to make dummy flintlock muskets instead.
Cheryl and Janet commandeered their late grandmother's sewing machine and started turning out the costumes. Mike and Jeremy had tan denim jeans that could pass as buckskin (especially after adding fringe and ribbon trim down the outside seams.) Andy had faded blue jeans that received similar treatment, and the results weren't too incongruous. Loincloths worn outside the jeans, sneakers, colorful shirts or bare chests, feathers dangling from simple leather thong headbands, and a little face paint completed the picture.
Emily's costume was a fringed shift Cheryl made for her from some suede-look, tan fabric, together with sneakers and a headband with a single feather standing tall behind her incongruously honey-blonde pigtails. Melissa had to admit the giggling pixie was cute as the proverbial button.
Tommy wore brown jeans, and a tan shirt with full tails, long, fringed sleeves, and a drawstring front. With sneakers and a belt to hold his tomahawk he had a realistic Hawkeye costume.
That left Cheryl and Janet, who announced they were working on adapting some old dresses they found in the attic and would finish as quickly as they could.
The first day of "Project Huron" was innocent and (Melissa had to admit), fun. There was a great deal of lurking and sneaking through the forest; a picnic by the creek with everyone in costume (save Melissa, Cheryl, and Janet); more lurking and sneaking; and a campfire that night, with singing and ghost stories.
Melissa was lulled into complacency, and she didn't accompany the children when they went into the woods the next morning, where Cheryl explained a modification of the game.
"Janet and I will walk through the woods from here to the Fort, which is the old shed" (a landmark all the children knew.) "The Hurons will set up an ambush and try to capture us." She gave a small sack to Mike. "Here's some stuff you can use to keep us prisoners if you can catch us. Go ahead, I'll count to two hundred before we start."
The Hurons disappeared into the woods. Cheryl said, "You go to the Fort, Tommy. If we don't get there you come back this way and try to find us." Tommy nodded and followed the others.
Janet wondered why Cheryl seemed so excited. Being a captive didn't do anything for her, but she didn't mind, either, so she shrugged and followed her cousin.
Cheryl hadn't gone more than a hundred feet down the old road that led towards the shed when the Hurons sprang their ambush. Mike and Emily jumped out in front of her, and when she turned to run she almost tripped over Andy and Jeremy, who had dashed out of the woods behind her. Janet was about twenty feet behind Cheryl, and when she saw the boys she shrieked and ran into the woods.
Mike ordered, "You tie her up and I'll get the other one." He ran after Janet.
Jeremy and Andy each held an arm, but they could barely hold on to the struggling Cheryl. Emily pressed the muzzle of her flintlock to Cheryl's stomach and shouted, "Freeze, I've got you covered!"
Cheryl paused. "Freeze? That doesn't sound very authentic."
Emily flushed. "You know what I mean. And you know the rules of the game. If I get the drop on you, you have to surrender and let us tie you up."
"OK, you got me." Cheryl stopped struggling and held out her hands.
Andy wrapped a leather thong around Cheryl's wrists several times and knotted it. Jeremy held a peeled stick up to her mouth. "Open up."
Cheryl obediently opened her mouth and let the gag be inserted. Jeremy tied the thongs fastened to the ends of the gag behind Cheryl's neck. The stick was thick enough to keep her from speaking, but it didn't interfere with her breathing.
Emily commanded, "Tie her to that tree so we can go help Mike, I mean, 'The Chief,' catch the other one."
The braves pushed Cheryl's back up to a sapling and Emily wrapped rope around her arms and body. Another shriek from the woods announced that Janet had also been captured. The braves relaxed, and the Princess' thoughts drifted among possible ways to torment captives, especially a certain sister...
Then DISASTER! Melissa came looking for the Hurons to invite them to lunch. After a search of the immediate surroundings, she walked along the old road and into the clearing... and there was Cheryl tied to a tree! Cheryl was dressed in a low cut cotton dress with long, full skirts and a narrow waist, in bottle green, and trimmed with white lace and green ribbons. Her wrists were tied together in front with a leather thong and a stick was tied between her teeth with more thongs. Her back was against a straight sapling, and a long rope of braided cotton was wound tightly around her body and the tree, pinning her arms to her sides, and her knees and ankles together. Andy and Jeremy were lounging nearby, resplendent in their Huron regalia.
Melissa rushed forward and took the stick-gag from Cheryl's mouth. "What's the meaning of this?" she demanded as the surprised Huron braves scrambled to their feet.
"It's OK, Aunt Melissa," Cheryl explained. "I'm a White Captive."
"What?" Melissa gasped.
"A captured English lady. What's the big deal? You watched the movie."
Just then Chief Mike entered the clearing. A coil of rope was in his hand, the other end of which cinched Janet's thong-bound wrists. Obviously a second "White Captive," Janet was also gagged with a stick and also dressed like an 18th Century damsel (only her dress was in a cheery yellow plaid.)
"No, no, absolutely not! " Melissa ranted, stomping her sandal-clad feet, her face red. "There will be no female captives! It's sexist and... and... submissive! "
"It's historical!" Cheryl objected.
"There will be no Hurons taking captives, unless I'm there to supervise, and that ain't gonna happen, understood?"
"But it's fun!" Cheryl pouted.
"Absolutely not! The French and Indian War is over! Understood?"
"Yes, ma'am," the Hurons and 'rescued' damsels mumbled.
"Now," Melissa continued, "untie the girls and everyone get cleaned up and in the house for lunch. Boys swim at one o'clock; girls at three." She sighed and frowned at Cheryl (who was still being released by her captors). "I'm surprised at you," she muttered and stomped towards the house.
ON THE WARPATH
After dinner the older children held a meeting in the barn. Mike was the angriest. "It's so unfair! Why should Aunt Melissa care what game we play as long as nobody gets hurt?"
Cheryl thought about trying to explain sexual politics to Mike, but decided it wasn't worth the effort. "It doesn't matter why, the question is what we're going to do about it."
"I say we play anyway, and she can just lump it," Mike muttered.
"That won't work. She'll call our parents, they'll be here the next day, and they'll be mad. My dad said that if I got into trouble I'd be grounded for the rest of the summer."
Mike nodded glumly. His father had said the same thing, and also threatened to take away his computer. Mike didn't think he would survive if he couldn't play Diablo II.
Janet spoke up. "What if we got Melissa involved in the game?"
Mike scoffed, "How can we do that? She won't let us play the game, so why would she want to?"
"I believe her words were 'no taking captives unless I supervise.'" Janet said. "We won't give her a choice. We capture her and keep her tied up, and let her supervise all she wants."
The children thought about that for a minute. Cheryl said, "That would keep her from calling our parents, and I bet once she settles down things would be okay. She would probably be too embarrassed to admit we made her our prisoner. We might get in trouble, but not big trouble... not if Mel's in the middle of everything."
Janet and Cheryl exchanged a knowing glance. The logic may have been dubious, but the girls knew they could bring Mel around... probably. Mike frowned, still trying to puzzle his way to a solution not involving parental retribution.
"It won't be easy to capture her," Cheryl continued. "You know how hard it is to tie up somebody if they're struggling. You can't tie me securely unless I cooperate, and Aunt Melissa's a lot stronger than I am. We'd have to take her by surprise, and even then I don't think we could get tight ropes on her. Too bad we don't have any handcuffs."
"We could knock her out," Mike suggested, "or give her sleeping pills."
The girls looked at the oaf. Janet explained, "We don't want to hurt her, dummy, and besides, we don't have any sleeping pills." Janet paused. "We may have some handcuffs, though."
"What do you mean?" Cheryl asked.
"My dad was using some big cable ties to carry some pipe on the roof rack on our van," Janet explained. "I think there are some left over. If we can get them around her wrists she can't get them off. Only thing is, the edges are kind of sharp. She'll hurt herself if she struggles."
"Make that when she struggles," Cheryl purred, then snapped her fingers and turned to Mike. "There's some rubber tubing in the barn, right?"
Mike frowned. "Yeah, like for siphoning gas and stuff... but we can't tie her up with that."
Cheryl smiled. "You cut a couple of six inch lengths, stick a cable tie through each one, and when we close them the rubber'll cushion her wrists. I'll help you get the length of the tubing right, so they'll fit tight but comfortable. You can practice on me." She next turned to Janet. "There's more than one size of tie in the van, right?"
Janet nodded, once again impressed that her cousin missed very little.
"Once we get the ties on her wrists, we can join them together with one of them." She smiled. "We never have to take them off her. They'll be permanent little rubber-covered bracelets. All we have to do is keep anything sharp out of her reach." Cheryl was getting excited. "This could definitely work! You know how Melissa usually falls asleep in the hammock after lunch? That would be the time to get her, but it'll take a lot of planning and maybe a rehearsal. Let's do it! We'll leave Tommy and Emily out of it, but we'll need Andy and Jeremy. Janet, you go get the cable ties from your van. Mike, you get the tubing. I got another idea, so I need to do some sewing. We'll meet here in the barn tomorrow. Don't say anything to the other kids yet."
Back in the house, Melissa frowned. She had been expecting more protest from the children, but they were quiet. She also had a momentary qualm about the arbitrary way that she had acted, but she suppressed it. The game had too many overtones of female inequality to allow it to go on.
After dinner everyone watched another video. Tonight it was Lord of the Flies. Melissa was momentarily concerned by the empathy the boys showed when the children in the movie descended into savagery, but she shrugged it off. That sort of behavior was normal for males.
ON THE WARPATH
The next day after lunch the older children met in the barn. Cheryl was in charge. "OK, you all know the plan, but let's go over it one more time. I just checked, and Aunt Melissa is asleep in the hammock. Show me your equipment."
Mike and Andy each had a rubber tubing clad cable tie, already formed into a wide circle with a five-foot piece of quarter-inch nylon rope tied to it. They held them up.
"Good. What do you do with them?"
Mike replied, "We put them around Melissa's wrists. Separately. I got the right."
"And I got the left," Andy added.
"Right. Last I looked she isn't sleeping with her hands together, and moving them might wake her up. If things are changed, we wait 'til she moves into a convenient position, and everyone waits, quietly. I say again, quietly. Once the ties are around her wrists I'll say, 'Now!' Then what do you do? Andy?"
"Pull the tie tight and toss the rope under the hammock, then grab Mike's rope from the other side, and we pull her hands together behind her back and hold them there."
"Right. Then what do you do, Janet?"
"I'm under the hammock, and I slip this tie..." She held up the cable tie in question (and second and third backup ties.) "...through the ties on her wrists and zip it closed. What will you be doing, Cher?"
Cheryl held up the bag she had made from undyed cotton cloth. Its seams were double stitched and there was a broad band of doubled fabric sewn around its lower half. It had a drawstring of thin nylon cord that closed with a plastic friction clamp borrowed from the stuff sack of one of the sleeping bags. "When she wakes up and lifts her head, I pull this bag over it and pull the drawstring tight. If she can't see she should be easy to handle. Once her hands are fastened you hobble her ankles, Jeremy. Mike and Andy will hold her legs."
"What do we do if we can't get her hands tied?" Janet asked.
"Run for the woods and hide," Cheryl answered, "...forever. Come on, everybody. Screw your courage to the sticking place!"
Mike frowned. "Huh?"
"Shakespeare," Janet explained.
"Oh," Mike responded, suitably impressed.
The children crept out of the barn and around to the front of the house. Melissa was asleep in the net hammock slung between two maple trees. She was wearing her usual denim cutoffs and a sleeveless, collarless, white cotton blouse that buttoned down the front. Only the middle three buttons were fastened, the tails having been gathered and tied in front, exposing Melissa's navel and flat, tanned and freckled abdomen. Her sports sandals were off her feet and abandoned in the dust. Her right arm had slipped off of her lap and dangled off the side of the hammock, but her left was draped across her tummy. The children frowned with concern... then smiled when their target squirmed in her sleep and the left hand slid free to dangle in midair.
"Perfect," Cheryl whispered, "This should be easy. Let's go!"
Melissa was deep in slumber. She didn't hear Cheryl's quiet signal, but woke with the ratcheting of the ties around her wrists and her arms being pulled under the hammock. She opened her eyes and lifted her head, and everything went black! She pulled on whatever was holding her wrists, trying to bring her hands to her face, but it was already too late.
"What the... ? " she muttered, still half asleep, her words muffled by the bag.
Under the hammock, Janet closed the fatal tie, and Melissa was a captive of the Hurons.
THE END OF
ON THE WARPATH