You take a bag full of small rubber bands, two sticks of wood (one longer than the other), and you nail the two pieces of wood together with those crappy white nails, real thin, ribbed, with almost no head at all. When you have the crossbow shape, you take the rubber bands.
Here is the tricky part. You have to fold the rubber bands in half. The first one is fine, but the next is hard. You loop the folded rubber band through the two loops formed by the one before it. Do this about twenty times and you have a cord. Staple your rubber band cord to the arms of your crossbow and you are in business.
Take a bendy, bendy, long piece of wood and strip all the bark off it. It will be wet. The surface for holding will be sticky with sap. That is just the price of doing business. You take a piece of string and you tie it to each end, pulling the string tight to bend the stick. You have a bow. Now you’re in business.
My favorite of the back yard arsenal was the sword. The beginners are happy with a stick. If they are lucky, they can find one with a crook in it or one with a smaller branch splitting off that can make a deformed half crossbar. If they are really lucky, they can find a dead branch. It is harder to strip the bark, but when it is done, it is smooth for the most part.
I was not a beginner. I had moved past stripping bark off swords when I was seven. Had graduated to sandpaper to take down the burs by the time I was eight, and at nine, I walked away from the branch altogether and found a plank two inches by an inch. I got adventurous and snapped the board until it was as tall as my chin. I took a discarded piece and nailed it to the plank at the spot where it would form the crossbar, providing for a two-handed grip. But the nail did not work well. I still had some play in the crossbar and it spun like a fan blade. A second nail and the wood split just enough to make that second nail worthless. My crossbar was quickly falling apart. Then I saw the string.
I worked the string as I had seen done on a raft in a movie about the Swiss Family Robinson. I worked it in an X pattern around the two pieces of wood over and over again until I had a strong and powerful great sword. I sanded down the handle and wrapped it with string. I was ready for war.
Fought dragons. Fought hordes of marauding beasts. Fought horseriding barbarians, and freed a few maidens. I was Dar from Beastmaster. I was Sir Lancelot. I was Conan the Barbarian. I was Aragorn. I was every great hero I could remember. But that day, I was just me, the Hero of Pierce Avenue.
It started off as a walk to the grocery store. My mother needed a gallon of milk, so she sent me. I had carried milk before at the age of seven and it had been a disaster. This time would be no different if I was not careful. Milk got heavy after a few blocks. The store was seven blocks away. Milk got cold on the fingers after a few seconds and I could not make this work without a little ingenuity.
I took an extra belt, and when I had the milk bought, I looped the belt through the handle and buckled it to create a loop long enough to hang over my shoulder. I carried it home and cut into my alley to get to my backyard when I heard the screams.
It was a tiny voice yelling for help. A little boy from up the street. He barely wore clothes most days, he was filthy all the time, and he was about six years old. He was being smacked and kicked by another boy from farther down the block. This boy was 13.
I saw past my eyes a flash of some image. Blood ran cold. Hair stood on end. I held my hands over my ears to muffle the sound of the boy’s screams and I walked on.
I saw it again. My father, his fist flashing, the sudden impact of hard knuckles. The blaze of pain. The laugh. I saw it all played out before me again. And with a slight moan, I kept walking.
More screaming. More cries for help. More laughing. A young thing was being hurt. An older thing was doing the hurting. There was fun to be had in torturing something weak and I could not take it.
As fast as I could, I ran to the house. I dropped the milk in the fridge and stood in the kitchen crying. I sobbed as images of my father blazed through my head. Soon he was not beating me. Soon it was other games. More horrid games and more horrid pain.
I don’t remember leaving the kitchen. It was like my awareness was stuttering. I was walking, then I was outside. I was crossing the yard, then I was in the corner where the two fences met where I hid my sword behind a bush that concealed it completely. My parents did not like me playing with swords. Thought it was a stupid way to spend my time. So I had to hide my weapons around the yard. I was behind the bush in a flash. Then a stutter of time and I was in the alley. Another stutter and I was behind the older kid.
The first swing was the best. It snapped across his back and sent him wincing. He arched his back and howled. I had the sword moving again as he turned, and the second strike took him at the right fist.
The hit was so powerful I heard his hand crack. Maybe I had broken a bone, maybe not, but that hand was out of the fight. Before he could register what was happening to him, I brought my sword down on his left wrist. He howled in pain and I went for the knees.
Between every hit I saw my father. My father’s kick as he lied about all the karate he had taken and how many black belts he had earned. My father’s head as it butted into my face. My father’s fist, the back of his hand. The twist of his fingers as he pinched for no reason. The violent impact of the heavy hand across my face. Being hit so hard I left the ground and fell back many feet. I saw him standing over me yelling. Standing over me laughing. And with every image that flashed before my eyes, I felt another impact across this boy’s body.
I was not a hero fighting for that little six-year-old boy. I was a hero finally standing up for myself. The Knight with the Wooden Sword he had crafted himself in the forge of his back yard to fight off the monsters of his mind. I was fighting that fight. I was winning that fight.
When the 13-year-old ran, I followed him down the alley until I stopped, gasping for breath and weeping. I sobbed and screamed after him. I said, “Never again!” but I doubt it came out that way. I am sure it was not words but a primal scream fired off in defiance of the man who had hurt me and every other big thing that delighted in the torture of the small.
I left that little boy crying where I found him. I am not sure if he was hurt really bad or not. I did not linger. I marched up the stairs from the alley to my backyard and went to the corner bush. I dropped to my knees as I propped my sword back in its place and wept.
There on my knees like a praying crusader I wept before my sword. For the childhood I was living and the horror that waited for me that weekend.
When we moved from that house, I took my sword and tossed it on the rental truck we were loading. It had become a part of me. Had become a weapon I used to fight all my dream battles and all my nightmares. I was sent inside for another load and when I came back out I saw my sword sticking out of the trash like Excalibur from the stone.
It was then I knew I was not the king of my life. I was no longer the Knight of the Wooden Sword, no longer a hero in my own life. That day I went back to being a victim. I would be a victim in one way or another for more than a decade longer.
Then I met Bekah. Then I became a hero again.