Camping at Texhoma (The Flaming Arrow Story)
Shortly after I graduated high school, my friend Rick Morris invited me and a couple other friends to go camping at Lake Texhoma...sort of a farewell to high school sort of thing. The other people invited were Steve Cox (who we referred to as Critter, or Cap'n Critter), and Mark Cheeves, who I had seen a few times, but didn't really know.
Rick said his family had gone there several times, and it was an awesome place to camp, fish, and swim. Well, I swim like a rock, and though I do enjoy fishing, was not in the mood for it, though would likely have been happy to try spear fishing or bow fishing.
Rick drove a pickup, and offered to provide transportation, if the rest of us chipped in for gas. With the pickup, there was plenty of room to haul tents, coolers, etc. Not to mention my toys...a couple of machetes, some knives, my recurve bow and arrows (which I was proudly fletching myself). In short order, we all agreed.
The ride down was uneventful enough, though it did begin raining. We had no idea at the time that it would rain the entire week we were there, every single day.
Quickly he realized stopping the truck in the middle of mud might not have been the brightest idea. The truck tires spun happily, but the truck refused to depart the area. "Look, Mark and I are going to go ahead on foot and scout around," Rick said. "You and Steve stay here, and try to find some wood or something to put around the tires for traction."
I nodded happily. Great idea, give me a chance to use those machetes! Handing the second one to Steve, I quickly began trimming twigs and small limbs off nearby trees. In just a moment, I heard an excited shout from Steve. "Hey Jeff, come give me a hand!"
Wondering what the Critter had gotten himself into now, I headed over, to find Steve flailing at the largest tree in the area. "Steve, Rick didn't say to chop down trees!" I began. "Well he didn't say NOT to," replied Steve. He had a certain flawed logic there, I had to admit. Shrugging my shoulders, I set to, happily chopping away at the tree truck at a spot approximately opposite Steve's enthusiastic endeavors.
Suddenly we froze at a horrified screech from the distance, as Rick came running up. "What are you two idiots doing!?!?" he said, or words to that general effect. "Just getting you some wood like you asked", Steve calmly replied. "You think I could fit this huge tree under my tires!?! Besides, did you even look to see where the tree would fall?!?!" "Doesn't matter WHERE it falls," Replied Steve. "Only that it does". So saying he took another whack at the tree.
"You moron," shouted Rick. "Keep that up, and the tree is going to fall right across the hood of my truck!" "Oh, well I guess you better move the truck," Steve thoughtfully replied. In exasperation Rick grabbed the machete away from him. I grinned and tossed my own back in the pickup bed. The trip was off to a fine start.
The pickup WAS stuck, and it took both Steve and I pushing to get it started. We then had to jump in while the pickup rolled, as Rick was afraid if he stopped the process would have to be repeated. Fortunately we were young and agile enough this proved no problem.
Reaching a likely area to pitch camp, we set to. I quickly erected my little two man pup tent, and placed my sleeping bag inside. Then I set back and watched the three stooges pitch the cabin tent Rick had brought. Tons of fun.
We had brought along a couple of coolers, and a five gallon jug of water, so we were reasonably provisioned. The rain returned, and we retreated to the shelter of the cabin tent, where Rick began instructing us on a board game he had brought along called Diplomacy. It covered the nations of WWI, and was a strategy game where each person controlled one of the nations, and sought through military might or secret deals to control the world. Steve and I quickly fell in love with it. Mark became bored and fell asleep, but Rick, Steve, and I played for hours.
Around 2 or 3 in the morning, the rain stopped, and I stepped outside. The rain swept air smelled marvelous, and the moon shining down on the nearby lake was picturesque. As I looked, a thought came to mind. I had always wanted to try flaming arrows. Here, with an abundant water source, and everything sopping wet from the rain, seemed a perfect setting. Flaming arrows arcing across the night sky before dropping into the lake...that would look amazing.
The problem was, what to use to set them on fire, and how to light them while holding a bow? Plus, I wanted to try and get as many in the air simultaneously as possible, for full effect. No doubt about it, I would need assistance. Cap'n Critter was, of course, the logical choice. Mark was asleep, plus I barely knew him. Rick was a great guy, but WAY too practical.
Broaching the idea with Steve, he agreed enthusiastically, as I had hoped he would. Together we devised a means of wrapping cloth soaked in gasoline around each arrow. The arrows were laid out in a convenient way to allow me to nock and fire them rapidly...or rather, for Steve to "fire" them with a burning branch. He would wait until I had the arrow drawn, then quickly apply the fire as I released it. The flaming arrow would arc across the night sky and drop harmlessly into the lake. No way I could miss a shot that close, and the lake was wide, so no danger of overshooting it. Even if I somehow did, all the vegetation in the area was soaked by now, so no danger of starting a fire. What could possibly go wrong?
Quickly we prepared. The target arrows proved unbalanced by the cloth wrapped around them, but the ones with the razor broadheads worked perfectly. Bit of a shame to waste them, but I enjoyed crafting arrows, buying the shafts and adding the arrowheads and fletching myself, so it was not a big deal.
Amazingly enough, everything worked to perfection. The arrows blazed brightly, the flight was stable enough, and drawing and firing as quickly as I could, I managed to get three arrows in the air simultaneously. Just like I imagined, they looked gorgeous against the night sky, arcing high in the air. Then they came down.
As the first one dropped towards the lake, the light from the flaming shaft revealed a scene.
A fisherman, wearing waders and an attached inner tube around his waist. Down came the arrow, impacting the right side of the inner tube. Pop! You could hear the sound from where we stood. As the terrified fisherman floundered, the next two came down in rapid succession. The second one arcing just over his head, impacting the inner tube immediately behind him. Pop! Followed closely by the 3rd arrow, arcing down to strike the left side of the inner tube. Pop! Abruptly the fisherman went bottoms up, while garbling and shouting all manner of obscenities. Who would guess someone would be fishing at that hour of the day? Quickly Steve and I put the bow and arrows away. The fisherman surfaced, screaming all sorts of foul language. Well, no harm no foul, as they say. It was time for bed.
Waking up the next morning, I found Rick and Mark already awake, preparing to leave. Rick told me he was going into the nearby town, and visit some family there. While he was out, he planned on purchasing some more provisions. Made sense to me. I remained behind at the campsite with Steve, who was blissfully snoring away.
Rummaging through the provisions we had on hand, I prepared to cook some breakfast. Only one problem....all the nearby wood was sopping wet. Well, I wasn't going to do everything by myself. Time to wake ol' Sleepy Headed Critter up.
The conversation went something like this..."Hey Steve, wake up and give me a hand finding some wood." "You don't need my help. We're in a freakin' forest, there's wood all around us." "DRY wood. Everything is soaked by the rain, I need some dry wood to start a fire." "What do you want a fire for? You've already shot your flaming arrows." "I'm hungry, and want to cook something. Give me a hand, and I'll cook some breakfast for you too. How about an omelet with sausage and cheese?"
Deep groan, then Critter stumbles out of the tent. "There's no dry wood around the campsite, we'll need to go further out," I said. "You head one direction, I'll go the opposite." A wordless grunt answered me, as we both headed out. There should be some dry wood at the base of some trees I reasoned, protected from the rain by the tree branches.
I spent a while, selecting the best, driest wood I could get, and headed back. Luck served, and I was able to start the fire, though I thought it might be well to stock up. And Critter had not yet returned. Venturing out once more, I collected more wood, every now and then calling out to my missing companion. "Critter! Hey critter, where did you go?" No doubt any other campers in the area got quite a chuckle when they heard me.
At length I returned to the camp, not wanting to be gone so long the fire would die out. There, in front of the fire, stood Critter, holding a huge, dripping wet log. Dumping it in the middle of the small fire, effectively extinguishing and scattering it, he stumbled back into the tent and fell asleep. Big help he was!
Late that afternoon, Rick and Mark return, and both Steve and I are grateful. You see, when they left for town, they forgot to leave the Water jug, and neither Steve nor I had a drop to drink all day. Neither of us had been foolish enough to try drinking the lake water, nor been ambitious enough to try boiling water to purify it.
The rain returns as well, in a deluge so heavy, even the "waterproof" tents begin leaking. Scrambling we all pile into the cab of Rick's pickup. Turning on the radio, he tunes to the local news, based out of the town they had just left. As we tune in, the weather begins. "Yes folks, it's raining cats and dogs out there. Why, around Lake Texhoma they're even reporting hail the size of watermelon......"
For just a moment, as the radio announcer makes his fateful pause, all four of us turn shocked eyes upon each other. Hail the size of watermelon? Where would you go, where could you possibly seek shelter?
Then the announcer concludes".....seeds." Bah, hail the size of watermelon seeds? Why that's no problem at all.
Then Rick turns to Steve. "Cap'n, did you fasten the tent flaps securely before you came out?" "Fasten? replied Steve. "Was I supposed to do that?" "Crap!" groused Rick. "Now the whole tent will get flooded." "I'm on it!" shouted Mark, jumping out of the truck. "I'll race you!" replied the Critter, jumping out as well. Together, the two of them raced across the campsite to the tent, being drenched with rain and lashed with hail and sleet. Quickly fastening the flaps, they raced back. The icy ground proved slick, and Critter did a full summersault in the air, landing on his feet still running.
That night was a repeat of the night before, with Rick, Steve and I spending long hours in the cabin tent playing Diplomacy. Yep, we were hooked. Numerous amusing things happened, like Steve backstabbing me while I was transporting an army on his fleet....which I then abandoned in Iceland, cut off from the rest of his forces. We each had our style of play....Rick was by far the most diplomatic of us, making deals left and right, which he generally kept...so long as it served his purpose. Critter was given to wild vendetas and had a complete inability to mask his intentions. Just looking at his face immediately told you if he was planning to attack you. I fell somewhere in between these extremes, not as diplomatic as Rick, but with a certain animal cunning. Not given to undying rage like Steve, but still harboring deep grudges at betrayals and determined to take my killer down with me. The three of us had a ton of fun, though I think Mark was beyond bored with the game.
Later that night/early morning, as the rain ceased momentarily, I was hiking around a bit, as I love to do. Returning to the camp, I heard Steve's voice...."I shot an arrow in the air, it fell to earth, I know not where..." Glancing worriedly up, I quickened my pace, to find Steve holding my bow and firing arrows off into the air randomly. "What the heck are you doing?" I calmly asked. It's pitch black out, there's no way you can find those arrows or have any idea where they fell.
Steve nodded sagely. "Exactly. That's why I said what I said." "Geeze Steve, those are aluminum shafts, and you've fired off a dozen or more arrows! Those things aren't cheap, and they took time for me to attach the arrowheads and vanes!" "Oh, well, I guess you'll have to buy some more, these are almost all gone," was his sage reply. Growling in disgust, I grabbed the bow from him and returned it to my tent. Somehow it didn't even occur to me to wonder if anyone had been harmed by the invisible arrows falling through the night. Apparently no one was, for we never heard any shouts or screams.
The next morning dawned bright and clear, with a new addition to our little campsite. A good sized tree had been washed away by the constant rain, and floated down to our little campsite. Mark, Rick, and Steve all decided it would be a marvelous adventure to hop on this log and try paddling it to the other side of the lake. I thoughtfully reminded them that I not only did not swim, but in fact floated like a rock. Even I had a smidgeon of common sense from time to time.
Climbing on board, the three brave adventurers set off, to a hearty bon voyage shout from me. I had a little hiking I wanted to do, something which I have always loved. Grabbing a hunting knife and machete I set off (after all, no telling what manner of wildlife lurked in the area, not to mention campers possibly annoyed by arrows, both flaming and otherwise, raining down out of the night sky).
My little stroll was uneventful, even most of the other campers had departed. Likely they were just weekenders, and had returned to work.
Just as I returned to camp, so did the rain. I chuckled as I saw my three fellow adventurers out on the lake, paddling the slowly sinking log.
It appeared I had shown rare good judgement in not accompanying them.
Rick suggested rabbit hunting, which I was interested in. He had brought a small gauge shotgun, and between that and my bow, we felt there was a chance. Plus it sounded like rare good fun to me. I had brought a second bow, and Critter used that, while Mark used the shotgun. Rick thought it would work to shoot rabbit out of the pickup. I thought that a bit unsporting, but then again, I had never hunted before.
It was quite a bit of fun, riding in the back of the pickup, looking for rabbits. And the Cap'n kept amused, randomly firing off what few arrows remained, claiming he "saw movement". Sincerely hope no one was left camping around us, as I don't think the Cap'n was overly choosy with his targets. As you might imagine, between the noise of the truck, Critter shouting such things as "There goes one! DIE VARMINT!" and the like, we were quite unsuccessful in our hunting endeavor. In annoyance, Rick dropped Steve and I off at camp and went back out with Mark. They managed to bag a rabbit, which they then skinned and cooked over the coals. Rather tasty, I had not had rabbit since my grandfather passed away.
By this time it was getting dark, so we broke out the lanterns and, you guessed it, played some more Diplomacy and Chess. I was starting to get competent at Chess, which had always fascinated me, though I had never played before. Rick was quite good, and Steve had an interesting tactic he called "Pawn Rush" where he held all his major pieces back, and advanced his entire line of pawns, supporting them from behind. Another late night, and we eventually crashed. Both Rick and I were developing bad sunburns on our backs. Not sure about Rick, but mine came from Critter deciding to use all my t-shirts to mop up rainwater in the pickup bed with, leaving me no clean shirts. It wasn't until AFTER I had the sunburn that I realized where they went....at first, all I knew was every one of my shirts had disappeared. Rick and I thus had a most uncomfortable night. I do not burn easily, and had never had a bad sunburn before.
As per usual, it rained all night and into the morning. Our poor "waterproof" tents were totally saturated at this point, and the rain water was becoming deep enough on the ground, it was spilling over the top of our ground floor, and running into the tents. A quick decision was made to break camp and leave.
Packing camp in the middle of a thunderstorm was an interesting experience, and not one I would recommend highly. As we packed, Rick was reminding us of the deep gully we had negotiated to reach where we were. It was now partially filled with water, and very slick. "The only way we can hope to do this is if I'm going full speed when we start down into the gully," Rick began. "This pickup doesn't have much traction, so I'm going to need all the speed I can get to top out the other side. What I need you 3 guys to do is be outside pushing, and jump in just before we start down."
All three of us agreed, it sounded like great fun! So after quickly hurling everything into the pickup bed, we shoved off, quite literally.
Everything went exactly as scripted. First Mark jumped in, then Steve, and finally myself, just as we reached the lip of the gully.
"Hang on!" Rick shouted, tromping the accelerator. The gully was steep on both sides. Rushing down into it, we picked up considerable speed. As it turned out, we needed every ounce of it, as the pickup slid sideways up the opposite side, barely topping out before losing momentum.
The rest of the trip back was uneventful, so far as I can remember. Or course, I'm leaving out a few things, such as the stray dog that wandered into our camp, ducking inside Rick's tent to get out of the rain. Rick went to shoo it away, and kicked at it...upon which the dog moved, and Rick's kick landed in a most sensitive portion of it's anatomy. Doubtless the poor cur thought twice before ducking into anyone else's tent. And then there was the Critter, tossing my new bowie knife into the ground and leaving it there overnight, so it became covered with rust. But I seem to recall his book "Bloodstone", by Karl Edward Wagner, being partially ruined by the rain, which might have been my fault, so I suppose it balanced out.
All in all, a most memorable trip, and a fine way to bid farewell to high school.