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Losers of The Everglades

by Jessi about a year ago in Short Story · updated about a year ago
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a short story

Losers of The Everglades
Photo by Kristijan Arsov on Unsplash

Summer is a magical time. Everything moves slower. The days are longer and the nights are filled with stars so dazzling one can’t help but gaze for hours on end. Everyone has that one summer that rewrites their future… a redefining moment, or a story of a lifetime. Campfire material. Well, this is one for the books.

It was the Summer of ‘67 and Louisiana was hot in all the right places. One could say it was one of those rites of passage.

The music was groovy, the streets were winding, and anticipation was electric. Everyone knew that something was building, waiting just beyond the marsh. What we didn’t know was, of course, the nature of the beast. It all started in the form of a clue, and a race to the prize. Bragging rights to the hero of the summer, and the best loser. Everyone wanted a slice of the cake but what they got was so much more… The adventure of a lifetime (and one hell of a case of poison ivy).

The sunset lit up the sky with yellow. The glare seemed to last for hours and hours and we were all restless. The heatwave was painful, unnerving, and it made everyone just a little desperate for a taste of wild escapade. No one was more thirsty for an adventure like Tiff Baker.

Nearly sixteen, and eager to escape the bayou, Tiff was under the spell of the young August moon. If only she could crawl into one of her mystery novels and become Nancy Drew or join Casey Graves on the quest to catch Benedict The Bad. She wanted desperately to be transported back in time to sail on a ship with Naddodd and discover Iceland or to fly with Amelia Earnheart across the Atlantic. She knew adventure was dangerous but just like Earnheart said, “Adventure is worthwhile in itself”.

There comes a time in a young boy’s life when he faces a very upsetting and confusing but most incredible disposition. His first crush. For Rodger “Rodgie” Peterson, that crush was on Tiff Baker. Unlike our heroine, Rodgie had other things on his mind. An adventure of another sort. Love… and if there was any summer to pursue romance it was this one. Now, Rodgie was but only thirteen, but that didn’t stop him from dreaming up a world where he could marry the most beautiful girl in all of East Swallow High.

As fate would have it, Rodgie and Tiff would become two very important people in this story, and some of the best losers this world has ever seen.

By sydney Rae on Unsplash

Rodgie was riding his red Astro Flite down Shoe Lane like he did every Saturday morning. Nothing was more important to Rodgie than this. Because nothing was more important than seeing Tiff Baker smile- and nothing made her smile as sweetly as a Saturday morning walk to the mailbox where a note would always be waiting for her, neatly tied with a blue ribbon. The note was always different, but in a way, they were all the same. A riddle.

Tiff liked riddles very much and she hoped that some mysterious man was sending them to her and that one day the clues would take her to an exciting destination where the two would rendezvous. What she didn't know was that these riddles were very important, and soon they would be put to the test. On this particular Saturday morning, however, Tiff did not get a note tied by a blue ribbon. In fact, she got no mail at all.

By Mathyas Kurmann on Unsplash

Rodgie sped across the wood planks that cover the muddy hole, pedaled up the hill by the cemetery, and down the crooked path which he knew so well. He took a left at the Willow tree and a right at Shoe Lane, just as he always had before. He was only a minute or two away from Tiff’s yellow mailbox when a small dog ran out in front of him. The hound was muddy, dragging his metal chain by the collar, and before Rodgie could even think of what to do, the chain hit the bike and wrapped itself inside the front wheel. The dog drug Rodgie across the street and into the ditch. He knew he should let go but something was stopping him. Fear. So, he held onto the handles as his bike flipped and his side was scraped against the pavement. “Stop! Stop!” Rodgie yelled to the dog. The dog whimpered, and Rodgie rolled out from under the mess. “It’s okay,” said the boy to the dog. “I know you didn’t mean to…” He took the collar off of the hound, checked for a name (no tag was there), and petted his little head. “You look like you were running away from something… or someone. It’s okay. You can come home with me. My mom will know what to do.”

Rodgie limped as he walked back home with the mucky dog by his side.

By Kool C on Unsplash

“Mom?” Rodgie cracked open the front door. “You stay right there, I’ll be right back!” The dog sneezed, and he took it as a sign that his orders were understood.

“Rodgie Bear? Is that you?” She closed the oven door and walked around the kitchen corner. “Rodge! What happened to you? What’s the matter, son?” Misses Peterson, wearing white flour on her nose and apron, hurried to her son who was scraped and covered in red dirt.

“It’s okay mom! I just fell off my bike.”

“I’ve told you to stop speeding around like a hooligan!”

“I wasn’t speeding Ma, but this dog ran out in front of me and his chain got wrapped in my wheel, and well… he’s outside.” Rodgie turned his head so he didn’t see his mother’s reaction.

“A dog?! Rodgie, you know how I feel about those. We ain’t takin’ in no dogs!”

“Maa! Just go look at ‘im? I told him you’d know what to do, and he came alll this way, limpin’ and everything.”

“Alright… I’ll look at him.”

Of course, what mother could honestly turn down a poor little hound dog with drooping ears and a wagging tail, especially a pitiful one covered in red mud?

Rodgie and Misses Peterson cleaned up the dog with a washrag, gave him some chicken and a shallow bowl of cool water, and the dog was told he could stay in the garage.

“Thanks, mom,” said Rodgie as his mom patted his wounds with a towelette.

“This better be the last time.” She took out a brown bottle of numbing antiseptic and applied a few drops to his knee wounds.

“Ah! Mamma, that hurts! Ow, ow,” Rodgie winced as his knee stung.

“I know. I’m sorry. Healing hurts sometimes, kiddo. That’s just the way it goes.”

When his mom went to bed, Rodgie went down to see the dog, who he decided to call Mud, and he gave Mud a little bedtime bowl of milk.

“See you in the morning, Mud.”

Mud licked his face and then curled up in a ball like a cinnamon roll. Rodgie thought that was awfully cute and wasn’t sure he’d be able to see the pup go.

As he fluffed his pillow to lay down for bed, Rodgie remembered he had to give Tiff her final piece of the puzzle. Of course, he could just speak to her in person... but, what's the fun in that?

As Tiff brushed her hair for church, she thought about the empty mailbox. “Mail gets lost sometimes. It’s no big deal, honestly, Tiff.” She huffed and pushed a beret through her bangs.

“Tiffany! You’re late. The bus is here! C’mon.” Her dad whistled and knocked on the bedroom door.

“I’m ready!” Tiff grabbed her cardigan and her bible and ran out to the church bus.

By Church of the King on Unsplash

Tiff watched the houses fly by through the small square window. She liked to open the window and feel the breeze blowing through the screen, although she knew her hair would hate her for it later. Her favorite house was the Duffer’s house. It was purple, like lavender, and it had a perfect white picket fence and a matching white mailbox. Although Weddy Duffer was all show and no go, she did admire her pretty dresses and her blond hair.

Red hair in Louisiana was a sure-fire way of being labeled many ill-fated things: A witch, a mutant, a vampire, bad luck, fire-tempered, a scarlet, and many other unfortunate names. Wendy was someone who always called her Satan’s Mistress or just Red. “Yes, Red?” She would say. Of course, most people just whispered under their breath, but she always heard.

When Tiff got home from church, a letter was waiting for her after all, stuck to the mailbox with a clothespin. She grinned and ran to the mailbox in her white heels.

She unraveled the paper to read: I am the beginning of everything, the end of everywhere. I’m the beginning of eternity, the end of time and space. What am I?

She skipped off to her room, knelt beside her bed, and pulled out a piece of cardboard from underneath. Tiff took a pen and wrote the letter ‘E’ next to a series of other letters. She sighed blissfully and stuffed the cardboard back under the bed. "It's the everglades," she sighed.

By Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Tiff and Rodgie had no idea that this clue would save their summer, but I suppose they did have a clue.

At dusk on the last Friday before the new school year, Tiff Baker and Rodgie Peterson met for the hundredth time, but only Rodgie knew that.

"So, you've been sending me those riddles?"

"Guilty," he said proudly.

"But, you're just a kid!" Tiff said disappointed.

"So are you!" Rodgie snapped back.

"I'm sixteen."

"Sixteen is still a kid. Besides, your birthday isn't for another month."

"How do you--?"

"Shhh... My name is Rodger. We don't have much time. I know you like clues. I have a big one. It's the key to The Secret Mansion."

"How do you know about The Secret Mansion?"

"It's an East Swallow legend, and I want to find it. Are you in or not?"

"Okay, fine. I'm in." Tiff was starving for adventure, even if it meant babysitting a boy scout.

"Yes!" Rodger smiled. "Form a team, no larger than five. We start tomorrow morning. Here's the map. I made you a copy," he said hastily.

"How did you? Where?"

"I can explain later. Tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow."

By Luke Hodde on Unsplash

The next day Tiff brought her four closest friends to the marsh which was known as the "everglades," or at least the only friends who didn't have something better to do than a scavenger hunt with little boys in the Summer heat. Rodgie brought three boys and Mud.

"A dog?"

"He's a hound dog. Perfect for hunting!"

"Well, good luck losers," said Marsha towering over all the boys by a few inches.

"May the best loser win," Rodgie responded.

"Iko, Iko!" The boys shouted.

"Iko, Iko!" the girls echoed, and the teams trekked off in their boots and swamp-waders with their maps in hand.

The girls came to a dead-end about two hours into their journey.

By Annie Spratt on Unsplash

"I don't understand. The boys have the same map."

"How do you know?" Robin asked, fanning herself with the map in question.

"Rodger would never."

"Right. Because he's sweet on you?" Marsha replied.

"He totally loves you," piped Alice.

"Girls! We are having a crisis and all you want to talk about is boys. Do you want to find this mansion or what?"

"Sorry," said Alice.

"Yeah, sorry," the other girls replied.

"To the right, ladies," said Tiff while holding her compass.

Meanwhile, the boys were only five hundred feet away attempting to shinny up a tree.

By Mael BALLAND on Unsplash

"I thought you knew where this place is!" yelled Marcus, whining.

"You said your dad told you how to get there easy," whispered Whyatt Humphree, a lanky 11-year-old with braces.

"Obviously, no one has yet to find it other than the Blue Bills in '42 and all we have to go off of is the legend."

"I heard the Blue Bills were eaten by gators," said Marcus.

"If that were true then who would have told the story?" questioned Tom-Tom, the quiet boy with a large over-bite.

"Look!" said Rodgie. "The Tucan Tree," he whispered.

"Help me down!" asked Tom-Tom.

By Sebastian Huxley on Unsplash

After walking for three miles slowly through the marshland, the two groups arrived simultaneously uphill facing the old smokehouse.

"This can't be it," Tiff said scanning the map.

"No, no. My dad said just four miles through the everglades, past the Tucan Tree, and three hundred feet to the right of the old chicory farm. Right atop the hill." Rodgie looked to the farm and back to the round smokehouse in confusion.

"This hill?" Marcus scratched his neck.

"This has to be it," said Tiff, shrugging. Grey clouds started to quickly fill the sky.

Out of nowhere, a lightning bolt struck in the distance and a summer storm slammed the kids with buckets of rain.

Mud ran to the smokehouse, and the kids followed- yelping and hollering after him.

"Mud!" Shouted Rodgie.

"Mud!"

By William Daigneault on Unsplash

One by one the kids entered the abandoned smokehouse.

"What happened to this place?" asked Robin.

"Caught fire," said Whyatt, itching his ankle.

"How ironic," she poked.

"It's not a smokehouse, it was a roasting shed. Where they made chicory coffee," observed Alice.

"Neato," said Robin.

"Anyway, no wonder why no one's found it. It's just a shed!" Marsha complained.

Thunder rolled as the rain barreled above them.

"Come here," whispered Rodgie to Tiff who was looking in the oven. Mud was whimpering at the floor.

"What is it?" She scratched her elbow. "Ow!"

"It's a trapdoor..."

"Like in Casey Graves!"

"You read those too?"

"Of course," he said, stepping on the door. "Open it."

"No, you found it!"

"Come on. Open it. I know you want to," he nudged her, smiling. He remembered it was always to make Tiff Baker smile.

Tiff opened the door, and a ladder dropped from below.

"Wicked cool," said Marcus.

"That's groovy, Tiff!" Robin said pushing Marcus aside.

By Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

Tiff climbed the ladder down and dropped the last foot to the bottom. She landed on the sooty cellar floor and coughed. "So much dust!"

The scavengers soon followed suit.

"It's..."

"It's a clubhouse!" Rodgie said. Mud howled.

The space was filled with maps, ladders, books, and some shabby chairs.

"Awesome," whispered Tom-Tom who until now hadn't spoken a word.

"We have to keep this a secret," said Tiff sternly.

"But we found it! We found The Secret Mansion," Rodgie knew his dad would be proud.

"Hardly!" shouted Robin, scratching her leg. "Ouch!"

"It can be ours. The Losers'."

"Fine," said Rodgie. "But under one condition," he muttered.

"Yeah?"

"Can you drive us next time? I kinda wrecked my bike trying to send you that last clue."

"WHAT CLUE?" the losers yelled in unison.

"It's a long story," said Tiff.

"Hey, y'all?" Robin interjected.

"What?" asked Marcus still scratching his neck.

"I think we have poison ivy..."

And that is the story of how the Summer of '67 was salvaged by the Losers of the Everglades.

The club met at The Secret Mansion twice a month for the next two years, Mud included. They never told a soul. Well, maybe one.

By inbal marilli on Unsplash

Short Story

About the author

Jessi

Writer on the Oregon coast. Lover of nature, poetry, and coffee!

Feel free to browse, skim + comment away.

I love to write about my travels, lovers + neuro-divergence. Thanks for your support!

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