1250 words is definitely pushing the limits of “flash” fiction, but I had so much fun writing it I just wanted to keep going. (Most published flash fiction is under 1000 words, but I go up to 1500 for flash stories on my site. Anything longer is labeled “short fiction” instead.) This story prompt is courtesy of Jason Sizemore from Apex Magazine, who wanted to “gift” his editor Lesley Conner with a story, so in May 2017 I wrote this tale of bravery involving a camping trip, and a really big tick…
Mrs. Lesley and the Campers of Troop 83 Vs The Giant Blacklegged Tick of Contrary Knob
The sun beat down on the campers of Troop 83 as they dropped their gear heavily to the ground, and with the kind of sighs only weary teenage boys can make, flopped beside their packs. Only their substitute troop leader seemed energetic. She stood near the edge of the clearing, looking out over the wide valley, and the twisting path they’d all just climbed up the mountain.
“Isn’t it beautiful, boys?” She spread her arms wide. “Look at that view!”
Behind her, the campers struggled to get upright. An older child raised a hand with his thumb up, but fell over with a thud.
“Mrs. Lesley?” one red-haired boy called out.
“Dude, her first name is Lesley,” the boy next to him whispered loudly. “She has the same last name as me and Quinn.”
“It’s okay, Bradley,” his mother said to him, and to the rest said, “You kids can call me Mrs. Lesley if you want. What do you need, Jonathan?”
Jonathan stood up, pulling a dark-haired boy up with him. He signed as he spoke, his hands moving along with the words.
“We need to eat dinner,” he said. He looked at the other boy, who signed back at him. “Matty would like some more water, please.”
“Who here has their Wilderness Cookout badge?” Lesley asked, looking at Matty so he could see her lips move. He raised his hand; Jonathan and another boy did, too.
“Okay, you,” Lesley said, pointing, “and Jimmy, you three can be my helpers. Why don’t the rest of you set up the tents?”
Jimmy, who’d been using his pack as a pillow, said, “Yes, ma’am!” and stood. He stretched dramatically, making a show of bending and reaching, until Lesley had turned away to start a campfire. “You guys figure it out,” he hissed suddenly. “Are we still doing this or what?” He jogged to the fire, throwing one last glance at the rest of the boys over his shoulder.
“Gather around,” Bradley said loudly, so his mother could hear. When the campers were huddled up, he lowered his voice. “Did everyone bring their assigned supplies?”
“Mr. Brad isn’t here,” Quinn said. “We can’t sneak off with Mom watching us.”
“Mr. Brad told us the whole plan,” Bradly shot back. “We’re already here. We can’t just go camping with that thing out there, eating deer and dogs.”
“I don’t know,” another boy — David — said. “It’s not the same without Mr. Brad.”
“Well, he broke his leg, and it’s going to be another 6 weeks before he can walk,” Kendrick whispered. “If we wait, it’ll already be summer.”
“Yeah,” Bradly agreed, “and who knows what the monster will eat next. Maybe some campers,” he added with a knowing look.
The others nodded.
“Do you kids need help with the tents?” Lesley called out.
“No!” they all yelled back at once.
“Let’s do the tents and then we can check over the supplies after dinner,” Quinn said. The rest agreed, and broke off to put their Tent and Lean-To badges to work.
Later, after a dinner of hot dogs and cheesy pasta, and an hour of singing campfire songs while Matty and Jonathan made them all s’mores, the sun had set. The boys said goodnight to their substitute troop leader and pretended to go back to their separate tents. When it was much, much, darker outside – darker than a power outage, darker than an iPod with a dead battery – they snuck out of their pup tents with their secret stash of supplies, and met up a few hundred yards away, where the trees blocked any view Mrs. Lesley might have of their flashlights, if she was still awake.
Quinn scribbled on a notepad while his older brother held the light over the page, and the other boys crowded around to read.
“Show what you’ve got,” it said.
One by one, the boys pulled out an assortment pulled from kitchen drawers and the backs of closets: three magnesium road flares, a package of yellow rubber gloves, a half-box of wooden matches, a fancy chef’s cleaver, still in its black box. That last was from Jimmy, who grinned as he handed it over.
“Any other weapons?” Quinn wrote.
A pause, then the others shook their heads. Jonathan waved his hand until Quinn handed the notepad over, then wrote:
“I have two bug bombs and a can of tick repellent!!” And next to it, a drawing of a six-legged bug with Xs for eyes.
David laughed when he saw it, but was quickly shushed.
Bradley took the notepad and pencil away. “I have the map and the compass,” he wrote. “Let’s go.”
Suddenly, from out in the darkness: Snap!
For a moment, no one moved a muscle.
“What was that?” David whispered. Matty shook his head, frowning, so David repeated it in sign, and added, “Sorry.”
“A bear?” Matty signed back.
The boys listened, but heard nothing.
Suddenly, they were bathed in light.
“No, honey, I’m not a bear,” Mrs. Lesley said.
“Mom, I can explain –” Bradley started, but she raised her hand to stop him.
“Oh, I know what you’re doing out here. You’ll all planning to get yourselves killed,” she said. “Back to camp. Now.”
When the campers were once again seated around the fire, their substitute troop leader looked over their pilfered supplies. She sighed a couple of times, checked the map more than once, and sighed again.
“I suppose Brad thought this would be enough for you to take on the Giant Blacklegged Tick of Contrary Knob,” she said finally. “Normally, I’d say you have to treat your troop leaders with respect, but there’s a reason that man broke his leg changing a flat tire.”
Matty was the first to speak up, signing, “You knew? You’re…” he paused, fidgeting.
“A mom?” she said as she signed back. “Yes I am. Do you boys know what else I am?”
They shook their heads no.
“I’m a lifetime member of the Scouts, and I have my Battle Bugs merit badge.” She smiled widely. “My troop took down the Devouring Tuber Worms of Red Marble Corner in ‘85.”
“So, you’re not mad at us?” Quinn asked quietly.
“Well, I’m mad that you were going to go charging off without a decent plan or real weapons,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “But mostly I’m going to to have a word with Brad about that when we get home.”
Bradley jumped up. “We can’t just go home!” he exclaimed. “We still have to take down the Tick. It’s eating dogs and deer and, and – it’s going to get people next.”
“We have to do something, Mom,” Quinn added.
Lesley shook her head, turned, and stepped into her tent.
Matty signed, questioning, and David shrugged his shoulders in reply.
She reappeared a moment later, dragging a large duffle back heavily across the ground. “Of course we’re going to do something about it, boys,” she said, and opened the bag.
Inside, a pile of sharp metal edges glinted in the firelight.
“Wow, Mrs. Lesley,” Jonathan said. “That’s a lot of swords.”
“There’s a few axes in there, too,” David said.
“I also have my Weaponsmith merit badge,” Lesley said. She carefully picked out a faded scout sash, completely covered in bright-colored patches, and put it on.
“All right, boys. Choose a weapon, gather around, and listen up. You’re going to do exactly as I say…”