How the Braves Became Wise – Extended Cut
By Jeffrey Bishop
This is the ‘Extended Cut’ version of the story, ideal for reading. Look for the ‘Short Cut’ version for a more tell-able edit of this story.
Sometimes a campfire story is just a campfire story. And sometimes it’s a rite of passage.
Tell Time: 10 minutes
Scare Rating: 3/5 Ghosts
It was evening at summer camp. The boys of Troop 502 had finished cooking their dinner, had eaten heartily and had washed and put away their mess kits. With the dads milling about the camp kitchen, the boys – twelve of them – gathered around the camp fire to tell jokes and stories, as they always did on camp outs.
As night fell deep and dark around them, Ben, an older boy in the troop and a patrol leader, stepped forward to tell a story that he’d seemingly been holding on to all evening. Here’s how it started:
“This ground we’re gathering on – this entire camp site in fact – is hallowed ground,” he said, quickly gathering the attention of the boys around the fireside. “This camp site once belonged to our forefathers, the Native Americans who used to live and hunt in this area.
“This is the place where, every year, a new group of young braves – always only the oldest twelve boy-leaders of the tribe – ventured into the woods alone. They traveled here together to test their courage, their creativity, their resolve and their wisdom, against the elements and against the spirits.
“The rite of passage always occurred in the middle of the summer. On a night like tonight that starts dark, but which is soon pierced by a high, bright moon that tears through the darkness.”
As he talked, the moon, previously invisible, seemed to rise above the tall trees surrounding their campsite clearing, almost as if on the command of the storyteller. Ben continued.
“After a full day of tests of skill and bravery – at hunting and capturing game and at races and at climbing cliff sides – the boys would gather around a fire just like ours for their culminating ceremony. Each boy would describe a single, different feature of an incredible creature; a feature of their imagination and creation.
“The eldest brave would begin, suggesting physical aspects, monstrous desires or the ferocious character of this creature. And each boy, in turn, would try to best the others at describing something monstrous – at describing something worthy of conquering in battle. In conquering it in a battle to the death.
“Because once they all had finished describing a part of it, one at a time and twelve in total, their creature would come to exist in reality, and would assail the campsite. Mustering themselves in the face of something far more fearsome in totality than any boy alone could have imagined, the braves together would battle the monster.”
“Only the wisest, most creative and courageous boys survived. In some years, no boys survived, so terrible was their creation. Only those who bested their beast in battle returned to their homes and to their families. When they returned, they were revered; respected as wise men and no longer just brave boys.”
Ben paused for dramatic effect, and looked around the campfire. All eyes were on him as he added, “Tonight, I propose that we brave boys do as our forebears did, and create a creature that we can defeat to earn our own honors.”
Immediately there were murmurs and nervous titters around the campfire, as the boys thought about the proposition. Most of them thought that Ben was joking, but the story had been so compelling that the idea, even if a joke, was more than a little nerve-wracking. But very quickly, some of the younger boys, not wanting to seem to be afraid compared to the older boys, piped up and said that it sounded like a great idea. Like chattering squirrels, they all started clamoring to go first in describing the creature.
Ben looked on with some satisfaction, and was about to pick a boy to go first, when Dan, the Senior Patrol Leader and the oldest boy at camp, cleared his throat to gain their attention. “I’m not so sure this is a good idea,” he said to the boys, “but, we’ll do this, if you all want to. However, as your Senior Patrol Leader and the oldest among us, I reserve the honor of going last.” Eager to get started, the boys readily agreed, and Ben volunteered to go first, to set the tone and show the way:
“This creature of ours has ten sharp horns ringing his head, and he thrusts his head violently in all directions when he attacks!” said Ben.
Trying to best the storyteller, Joe who was sitting to Ben’s right, described “long, sharp claws on his hands and feet, claws like a badger that can tear through trees, flesh and bone.”
Johnny, who happened to be somewhat short for his age, said that their monster was “as tall as the pine trees surrounding the clearing,” which was easily 100 feet high.
Going next in turn was Brent, who decided that “great, thick armor plating across his underbelly,” would be suitable defenses against the lads and their weapons.
David, normally quiet and reserved, surprised everyone a bit when he suggested an insatiable, “hunger for young human flesh, with a special taste for the human delicacies of ears and toes.”
“A long tail, like a whip, but covered with razor-like bone shards, to keep anyone from assaulting his back side,” added Ron when it was his turn.
“He opens his attack with a single, loud howl, coming on as if a strong wind, but raising in pitch, volume and intensity, to drive his prey crazy with fear!” said Marcus.
With each boy in turn, the creativity and ferocity of the monster increased. Next up was Andy. “He’s coming for us from the pit of hell, so he comes with a stench of death and of rot, with flesh falling off his body,” he said. “He’s coming to take us back with him!”
Zach piled on, describing “a giant leaf growing from the crown of his head,” and as the other boys started to laugh, he quickly finished, adding, “a leaf from a giant Venus Fly Trap, reaching down and grabbing up the braves before him!”
Matt described the terrible mouth, “with long canine teeth dripping acidic saliva that could melt flesh.”
Having had some time to think of something terrible, Robert described an ability to spit balls of fire. “They’re like giant loogies, but they are on fire and they completely stick to and cover with fire whatever he spits them at!”
Finally, it was Dan’s turn. Quietly, almost so quietly that no one could hear him, he added his description to the beast: “As immense and ferocious as he is, he cannot help but be overcome by showing mercy and kindness to those that he preys upon.”
The boys sneered at Dan’s contribution, yelling “Lame-O!” and shouting rants like “C’mon! Is that all you’ve got?” and other put downs. Some of them were even angry that he’d spoiled their fun. “Man, you had the last turn, the chance to seal this bad boy up, and you bring that?”
With all the commotion, and the late hour, the dads came over to the ruckus at the campfire, settling the boys down by sending them to their tents for lights out.
Exhausted by the day’s events, the boys – and dads – were very soon asleep. But no sooner had the last boy passed out asleep in his tent than did a great wind roar through the camp site, followed by a howl – an ear-splitting howl that woke the boys from their deep slumber, but which froze most of them in shock – and mysteriously locked all the dads in their slumber — as its pitch climbed higher and higher.
A couple of the boys – Marcus and Brent – gritted their teeth against the howl, and scampered out of their tents to see the storm that was surely causing the noise. Looking up at the sky, they saw that it was clear and illuminated brightly by a round, white moon. As the first two scanned the skies, more boys emerged from their tents and looked up.
Soon, however, a shadow obscured the moon, as something large crashed through the woods toward their clearing. Over the treeline emerged that something, and very soon the shape of ten sharp horns around a large domed scalp, with a single leafy plant in the middle, could be seen clearly against the night sky. Coming toward them was a monster … their monster!
With genuine bravado, some of the boys took up arms against the beast. Andy grabbed his pocket knife, as did Zach. Matt, Ben and Ron found their walking sticks and readied them in a defensive stance. Even David was plucky, and grabbed a sharp, burnt stick from the ashes of their camp fire. The boys were ready to make a stand against the fiend, even if it was their last stand. The young Braves were indeed brave.
Seeing the small army before him should have amused the beast, but instead it enraged him. He spat three fire-loogies toward the campers, and would have taken out as many scouts had his aim had any accuracy to it.
The fires helped the boys see what they were up against, but that wasn’t a good thing! In the orange light, they could see the beast’s tail mow down a grove of trees, like a weed trimmer in the woods. With a sudden thrust of his mighty clawed hand, the monster reached forward and grabbed three campers. Holding them in his meaty fist before him, he let out another awful yell, this one triumphant.
The beast opened his fist to shove the morsels into his gaping maw, when he realized – as if for the first time – what he was about to do. Looking into his palm, he saw the boys – Joe, Johnny and Dan – staring up at him, bracing for what was about to occur to them.
But at that moment, they saw his face change. Gone was the anger and raw hatred that had been there only moments before. The shape of the eyes softened, and the gaze became almost humanlike in its compassion. The monster looked remorseful, and it scanned the boys, the ruined campsite and the wrecked forest around it.
Filled with grace and mercy, the beast, suddenly kind, cupped the boys gently so they wouldn’t fall from the sky where he held them. He bent over and lowered them to the ground, where they sprang from his open hand and ran away to the far side of the clearing, in case he should change his mind. Pressing his large thumb into the fires he’d made, the monster put each one out before turning and walking away into the night. All of the boys were awe-struck as they watched with wonder the shadow of the beast lumber down the path of destruction it had hewn through the middle of the forest that night, back to its hellish home.
It remains unknown if some or all the braves would have defeated the beast in a battle of physical might. But it was not with weapons nor with bravery, but with the creativity and shrewdness to think to add benevolence to the monster’s character, that Dan used to lead them to win the night – to win their lives back and at the same time, to win their transition to manhood. The boys spent the rest of the night putting the campsite back together. As they worked, they said little to one another, but each realized that he had proved himself to be perhaps a little brave, but a lot wise, through their collective rite of passage.
And of course, they were all very amused the next day when the dads couldn’t figure out how they could have slept through the storm that apparently took out a wide band of trees in the forest around them.