Gatherers of Lions Rest, Chapter 1

Hello! In 2012/2013 I began writing a story about a group of friends called The Gatherers of Lions Rest. It’s been sitting in Dropbox for too many years, I’ve decided to release a chapter a week right here on the blog. Gatherers is a character rich, whimsical tale of adolescent adventure, youthful longing, lasting friendships, the suck of growing up, & so much more!

I hope you enjoy!

There are many perfectly adequate towns across the country where nothing grand or great has ever taken place.

“And what is this an allusion to, Mr. Kemp?”

            Ferris Kemp lifted his gaze from the classroom’s window to his substitute teacher, Ms. Thirsby. The 11-year-old had heard her speak, she’d been doing so the entire period, but he’d missed her question entirely. “Are you talking about the rabbit?” he asked, neither assuming nor unassuming that his question had been a proper follow-up to his instructors.

            “What rabbit?” the green teacher asked.

            “The one outside near the bushes,” he said.

            Ms. Thirsby noticed an unsharpened pencil in the boy’s hand, “Ferris, have you been paying any attention to the lesson today?” 

            The entire fifth grade class fell silent.

            Ferris thought for a moment, oblivious to the room full of eyes pointing in his direction. “I don’t think I have,” he answered lightly.

            The hint of a smile tugged on Ms. Thirsby’s mouth.

            “Maybe his pencil is a reference to the beginning of time,” B. Harpeth said from two desks over. “Before anything was written or ever told,” she added.

            Ms. Thirsby moved to the window. “Cleverly astute; I like it,” she said, placing her hand on the blind’s drawstring. “Ferris, will you be joining us for what’s left of class?”

            “Yes ma’am.”  He held up his pencil, “Beginning of time.”

            As the substitute rolled the blind’s mechanics in her fingers, Ferris caught his final glimpse of the curious rabbit before it dashed into the bushes.

            “I’d like to hear what else there is in this classroom that you could associate with, or as, the beginning of time,” Ms. Thirsby said from behind the podium.

            Charlie Lincoln raised his hand.

            “I told you at the start of class, as long as we don’t speak over each other, there is no need to raise your hand,” Ms. Thirsby insisted.

            “It’s just,” Charlie started, “Mrs. Casteth normally tells us what we need to know. You know, gives us the answer.”

            “And you don’t think that she’s doing you a disservice?” the teacher asked.

            The young students were quiet. Their brows furrowed.

            “Don’t act like you didn’t know you were smart kids. You can do this.” The substitute looked around the room, “Be brave.”

            “How about,” Ferris began, tapping his pencil on the desk, “the light switch?”

            Ms. Thirsby kept quiet, holding a curled lock against her face.

            “Almost,” B. Harpeth nudged quietly.

            Ferris cleared his throat, “The light switch in its off position.”

            “Let there be light,” Ms. Thirsby said as she clasped her hands together. “Very nice - both of you.”

            The piercing rattle of the lunch bell rang. Before the fifth graders could even stand, the stomping and chattering of the Viking-like upperclassmen penetrated through Ms. Thirsby’s part-time door.

            “When you come back I’d like to hear more allusions to the beginning of time,” the teacher announced. “I think B. has sent us on a good path.”

            The students filed past the absent Mrs. Casteth’s desk. By the contorted look on several of the young boy’s and girl’s faces it was clear that not everyone had fully understood what exactly defined an allusion.


            “Yes, Ms. Thirsby?” Ferris asked, pulling straight his pockets, as they’d bunched themselves up while at his seat.

            The room was empty from all but the two of them.

            “What was your rabbit wearing?” Ms. Thirsby asked from behind the desk.

            “Wearing?” Ferris wondered aloud, trying to remember the last time he’d seen any animal wear something. He did remember an odd man and an even odder woman who’d lived down the street from his grandparents when he was seven. The couple had two pets, a dog who wore denim and a cat whose tail always boasted a bow-tie. He looked towards the window. “Like clothes?”

            Ms. Thirsby removed a crinkled paper bag from her purse and emptied her lunch onto the desk. “Mhmm, like clothes,” she said.

            “Why would a rabbit be wearing clothes?” Ferris asked, the two dressed animals he’d seen before had had owners, by definition a wild rabbit has no owner, and Ferris highly doubted that a stranger would buy a wild rabbit clothes.

            Ms. Thirsby shrugged, “I suppose that is an odd question.”  She sorted through the poured contents in front of her, a hodgepodge of items bought from a convenience store. A bag of salted peanuts, a bag of honey roasted peanuts, a tube of lip balm, Tums, Binaca, a Hank Williams cassette, and lastly, the crown jewel, a plastic-wrapped burrito that appeared to be sweating.

            Ferris gave a scant cough, clearing his clear throat.

            “Oh, I’m sorry,” Ms. Thirsby said warmly. She seemed quite willing to turn her attention away from the bloated burrito. “You can go. I’d hate for you to miss the fun out there.”

            Ferris Kemp walked pigeon-toed down the empty hallways of Walton-Henry Middle School towards the cafeteria. He kept to the right side of the locker bank; letting his hand slip underneath the padlocks, he lifted them slightly as he passed. The small clang of the locks falling back into place against their respective lockers reverberated in the hollowed halls.

            The cafeteria was frantic. A thousand conversations echoed off of the rapidly pulsing fluorescent lighting. At one table, Laurel Janssen was speaking into the ear of Melci Moore regarding their friend, who happened to be seated directly across from them, and how it was clear that she couldn’t properly handle a curling iron. Normally when one speaks into the ear of another it is in a whisper, in the case of Laurel Janssen speaking into the ear of Melci Moore regarding their friend, whose hair was curled only in the front and straight only in the back, her full, very noticeable voice had been used.

            At another table, Ferris overheard Eric Salit boasting about the home run he’d hit to win his little league’s championship several summer vacations ago. It was a story he’d expel and embellish whenever another member of his table would share a current achievement of their own. With every retelling the ball is thrown faster, hit harder, and flies farther. In reality, Eric Salit was only ever in a tee-ball league and the only home run he’d ever hit was in an arcade video game.

            The lunch line was more than fifty students deep when Ferris arrived. Scanning for his usual table mates, it became clear they’d already beat the big lunch rush. Ferris passed on the line, meeting Charlie Lincoln and Alvin Aberth in the deep corner of the dining area. They were one short.

            “Where’s Nelson?” Ferris asked.

            Charlie laughed, “Do you seriously pay zero attention?”

            The late comer stayed standing, “What do you mean?”

            “Nel sits right next to you in class,” Alvin chimed. “He hasn’t been here all day.”

            Ferris eyed the cafeteria, “I don’t notice much.”

            “Gonna eat today?” Charlie asked, opening his chocolate milk. “Or should we choose without you?”

            “We can’t choose without him, or with him,” Alvin said. “Nel isn’t here. If ones not here, it’s like we’re all not here.”  Alvin tipped an invisible cowboy hat slightly, “Must keep by law.”

            Ferris and Charlie followed mockingly, “Must keep by law.”

             The cafeteria doors opened. Mr. Johannan, the P.E. teacher entered with Principal Neuhart. They cut through the students towards the room’s thrown together P.A. system. After a stint of fidgeting with the hacked gear, an awful squeal shot from the speakers, nearly bursting the diners’ ear drums. Ferris turned his body away from the sound. A girl with tortoise shell, horn rimmed glasses walking up to the lunch line clutching her ears caught his attention. He left the table.

            “Yep, see you later, too,” Charlie hollered sarcastically.

            Ferris met B. Harpeth in front of the gray woman working the lunch till.

            “Thanks for earlier,” Ferris shouted over the feedback.

            “What?” B. asked, still plugging her ears.

            Ferris moved closer, “I said, thanks for earlier.”

            “Oh yeah, of course,” she nodded, both head and hands.

            They were practically screaming.

            “Would you want to go to the old fountain shoppe after school?” Ferris asked.

            The speakers snarled.

            “WHAT?” she expelled.

            Ferris applied every pound of pressure to his ears that he could without concaving his skull, “WOULD YOU WANT TO GO TO THE OLD FOUNTAIN SHOPPE AFTER SCHOOL?”

            There was an absolute silence, followed by a unison ooo-ing from the entire lunch room. Ferris hadn’t noticed the calmed speaker system before asking B. to Francis’ Fountain. He stood in shock while laughter exploded, though it wasn’t the audience that froze Ferris.

            Mr. Johannan cleared his throat of what came across as gallons of mucus, “All right, all right. Calm it down.”  The microphone whistled in between words. “This is for the fifth grade class, but I want everyone’s attention.” 

            The room quieted, though most eyes stayed pointed at young Ferris Kemp.

            “Everyone’s attention,” Mr. Johannan snorted. “All right now, I’d like to announce that Principal Neuhart has an announcement.”

            “Good afternoon students,” Principal Neuhart greeted. “There has been a bit of a schedule change up this year regarding the 49th annual Walton-Henry square dance.”

            The crowd groaned.

            “Hey, hey, calm it down,” Mr. Johannan barked, grabbing the microphone.

            “Traditionally having been held in the spring, we on staff all think it best this year to present our dancers before we break for Thanksgiving.” She audited the students. “If I’m to be exact, the dance will be the day before Thanksgiving.”

            Mr. Johannan cleared the mucus buildup from his eyes. “Yes, this is only weeks away. Yes, we will need to prepare ASAP,” he said unpleased. “Yes, this will conflict with several of my coaching duties.”

            Principal Neuhart gave a stunning glare of disapproval.

            Mr. Johannan’s tone was less than half-hearted, “But yes, we all think this is best and will be a great gift to your parents and our community.”  The overtly annoyed teacher finished with a final on-mic clearing of his throat.

            “We’ll send letters home with you today,” Principal Neuhart said, setting the microphone down and leaving the students to their meals.

            “Ferris? Did you hear what I said?  Ferris?” B. asked.

            Ferris stood motionless, though no longer from childish fear, but joy.

            “I said lets walk there after the buses leave. Ralphie’s leaving for the weekend. I’m meeting her at her bus before she goes.”

            The eleven-year-old stayed stuck in her direction.

            “Ferris,” B. said, hidden in a laugh, “I’ll see you back in class.” She grabbed her tray and moved through the lunch line.

            Ferris let the line die completely. He heard the woman collecting lunch money make a snide remark about Mr. Johannan’s unseasonably short gym shorts. He watched the kitchen staff pull the food from under the heat lamps. He didn’t think about how his belly might rumble in the coming hours. He had just asked B. Harpeth to Francis’ Fountain and she’d said yes.

            Scheduled for roughly 3:15 PM, Friday November 6th, 1992, was Ferris Kemp’s first date.

            Charlie and Alvin had left the table by the time Ferris had returned. He ran outside to meet them on the basketball court where they had just started a game of Two-on-Two Half-Court. Trevor McQuinn was setting up a shot.

            “Guys, I need a second,” Ferris called.

            The faded basketball circled the hoop before falling in.

            “That’s two,” Trevor said, impressed by himself.

            “Bull corn that’s two!” Charlie yelled. “We said two was from the three; that wasn’t from the three.”

            “It wasn’t from the three if you’re blind,” Trevor defended.

            “Then I guess,” Charlie started, “that means that we’ve been using ‘blind’ incorrectly for forever, because that wasn’t from the three and I can see near-perfectly”

            “Charlie, let them have the two,” Alvin said, keeping calm.

            “Check the ball,” Charlie spat. “We’ll still win.”

            Ferris stood to the side of the court, “Guys, can I have a second?”

            Charlie passed the ball. Alvin moved towards the hoop.

            “Traveling! That’s traveling,” Trevor’s partner, Eric Salit accused.

            “What are you talking about?” Charlie exclaimed.

            The four players met underneath the hoop, yelling over each other. The game had come to a dead halt just minutes after its start. Alvin kept the ball stationary below his left foot. Ferris looked at his watch. The post-lunch recess period was nearly over and he was in dire need of his friends’ attention. Ferris bolted from off sides, kicking the ball out from under Alvin. It shot from the court and rolled passed both the wooden and the plastic jungle gyms.

            “Hey, I have to check that back in to the attendants,” Alvin shouted.

            “I’ll run and get it with you,” Ferris said with an overly wide smile. “Charlie will come, too.”

            The three boys jogged towards the still rolling ball.

            Charlie turned, running backwards, and yelled, “Trevor, just to be clear, we won that one.”  Shifting to Ferris, he asked, “What was all that fountain talk with B.?”

            “That’s what I need to talk about,” Ferris said, letting unease slip into his voice. “I asked her to Francis’ after school.”

            “And?” Alvin asked.

            “And I don’t get my allowance until tomorrow,” Ferris said, stumbling slightly over his own feet.

            Alvin shook his head, “I told you getting the third slammer wasn’t a great idea.”  He reached into his pockets. After sorting through the lint, Alvin said, “I have $1.84. Charlie, what have you got?”

            “33 cents, maybe 34,” Charlie said before checking his rubber squeeze coin holder. “33.”

            Ferris did the math, “What can I get at Francis’ for $2.17?”

            “Laughed at,” Charlie said.

            Alvin chortled, “That’s not helpful.”

            The bell signaling the end of lunch rang. Throngs of students descended each jungle gym.

            “Crud,” Ferris said in an exhale.

            “Do you want my advice?” Charlie asked.

            Clutching two dollars and seventeen cents, Ferris said, “I’ll do anything.”

            Charlie nodded his head in mischievous approval. “Go to Nelson’s. There’s always money laying around his place. You know he’s just at home watching TV. He won’t mind you stopping by.”

            “You mean skip class?” Ferris asked.

            Alvin started walking towards the school. “That’s not going to work. He won’t, can’t, and shouldn’t do it.”

            “I’ll do it,” Ferris chirped without hesitation.

            Alvin stopped in his tracks. “You won’t,” he said.

            “Ally, it’s B. Harpeth.” He turned, looking for her in the crowd of students returning to the school. “I will.”

            The recess supervisor blew her whistle at the boys.

            “Perfect,” Charlie said, brimming with confidence. “Alvin, you and I can distract Ms. Whistle over there and Ferris can make a break for it.”

            “I don’t agree with this,” Alvin trailed while the supervisor’s whistle blew again, “but it’s B. Harpeth.”

            “And you really don’t like the whistle blower,” Charlie added.

            “I mean, I get it, it’s her job, but does she have to look directly at us when she does it?  It’s degrading.” Alvin opined.

            Ferris recalled the importance of him “joining” the rest of his class this afternoon. “What about Ms. Thirsby?”

            Charlie thought for a moment, “I’ll tell her you fell from the monkey bars and are with the nurse.”

            Ferris began walking ahead of his friends. Before fully breaking away, he turned to Charlie and said, “You’re an evil genius.”

            Charlie tipped an invisible cowboy hat slightly, “For love.”

            Ferris knelt behind a bench near the basketball court and waited for his friends to cause a diversion. Poking an eye over the bench, he saw Charlie whisper something to Alvin. Alvin handed him the basketball and immediately fell to the ground; Charlie called out for the supervisor. She rushed over to Alvin, but there was a problem, she was facing Ferris’ direction. He quickly ducked back behind the bench.

            “Brother,” Ferris said, slightly defeated.

            He crossed his fingers and poked his other eye over the bench. Right behind the recess supervisor’s back was Charlie Lincoln, in the middle of hurling the faded basketball from above his head into the empty cafeteria’s window. Ferris’ eyelids disappeared. The ball ricocheted off of the glass and into the back of the supervisor’s head, knocking her onto the ground, toppling over Alvin Aberth in the process. Given the look on Charlie’s face, Ferris could tell that that bit was not a part of the plan.

            Ferris made his break, crossing the empty bus loading zone and entering the staff parking lot. Several members of the faculty were having a smoke. The fear of being caught broke on his date far out shined the fear of being caught trying to evade class. Ferris cunningly zigged and zagged from car to car, with each zig and every zag narrowly escaping sight. He rested for a moment against a mint Chrysler’s driver side door.

            A slight click from the door unlocking sank Ferris’ heart. He didn’t know if someone was entering or exiting. He slid down the car and pulled himself underneath the LeBaron’s frame. He heard a heavy-foot stomp across the parking lot in his direction, followed by a clutter of fast talk from the smoking staff. A pair of feminine loafers met his eye level. They belonged to Principal Neuhart.

            Ferris’ palms clenched the concrete. The car squeaked above him. He tried to fully flatten himself. The Chrysler sunk slightly from Principal Neuhart’s weight. Ferris heard a combination of papers being torn and thrown about, mixed with a grab bag of curse words. For the moment, the car was staying stationary.

            Nelson Deckard’s house was two streets away from Walton-Henry. The school was visible from his doorstep. Ferris was quick; he could make it there before getting winded, but he needed Principal Neuhart to leave her car. He wondered what she’d been doing and why her curses had left her silent. What seemed like several minutes had passed since Ferris had last heard movement from inside the cab. If she’d crept away, it’d been in a whisper.

            Ferris released one hand from the concrete, slipping it into his pocket. He felt one perfectly creased dollar bill, three quarters, two dimes, two nickels, and twelve pennies. He had two dollars and seventeen cents.

            It was Nelson’s now or Francis’ Fountain never.

            Ferris inched from under the LeBaron until he was wholly excavated. He kept his body below the windows. A thump sounded from inside the two-door. Ferris gave himself up to being caught. The air was heavy as he turned. He was greeted by a sleeping Principal Neuhart, slouching from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s, drooling on her new upholstery.

            Ferris ran.

            Within fifteen seconds Ferris had crossed the first street from the school. He was inside a small cove of apartment buildings. He didn’t notice if anyone had been outside or if he’d been spotted. He wasn’t going to let himself be bothered with that. He rushed forward.

            Nelson’s yard, still littered with Halloween decorations, shined like a beacon through a small brush. Ferris hopped the shrubs. Clipping his foot, he rolled into a traffic-free Whiskey Road; a close call. He didn’t wait to ring the bell; he called out Nelson’s name from the street. By the time Ferris made it to the driveway, Nelson was standing in the door.

            “You need something?” Nelson asked, leaning against the doorframe.

            “Yeah,” Ferris said winded, “those apartments to trim their shrubs.” He felt momentary comfort walking up to Nelson’s porch. “Can we go inside?”

            Nelson handed Ferris a lump of cash, “Porch swing sounds better; I’ve been inside all day.”

            Ferris took the other money from his pocket. “How’d you know I was coming?”

            “Charlie called from Mrs. Casteth’s phone. Told the sub he needed to check on his grandpa in the hospital.”

            “Genius,” Ferris said.

            Nelson nodded, “For B. Harpeth.”

            Ferris couldn’t hide his grin. They rocked back on the porch swing.

            Nelson looked at the money Ferris was nervously sifting through, “What’s the grand total?”

            Change fell out of Ferris’ hands. He recounted the lot several times. “$19.12. That’s more than enough. You’re a life saver,” Ferris said.

            “You just had to get that third slammer,” Nelson grinned, shaking his head.

            “You guys can have your pick of that stuff,” Ferris said. His chemistry was changing. His worldly possessions were no longer of importance to him. “Why’d you stay home?  You look fine.”

            “Why not?” Nelson shrugged. He loaded an imaginary bow and arrow and nudged, “It’s not like I was aiming for a perfect attendance ribbon.” Nelson let the imaginary arrow soar.

            “I happened to get perfect attendance one year; you and Charlie just can’t let that go,” Ferris said, clearly restating previous efforts.

            Several cars drove passed the house.

            “Wouldn’t it have been a bummer if you’d got hit on Whiskey?” Nelson asked. “You’re mom would freak if you got hit by a car.”

            “Yours wouldn’t?” Ferris asked.

            “Well,” Nelson nodded, as if to say she would. “You should probably go.”

            “Why?” Ferris asked; he’d assumed Nelson would like the company. “There’s no way I can slip back into class, or the school, without being noticed.”

            “Buses are already there,” Nelson said, pointing his imaginary bow towards the school.

            “What?” Ferris said astonished. “How long was I under that car?”

            Nelson shot up. “What? Under a car? You were under a car?”

            Ferris smiled, “For B. Harpeth.”

            Tucking his friends’ money into his pockets, Ferris made for the school.