The Fort
by Bobby Offerdahl

I don't know how we got there
Or why they let us play that day,
But some of the details are still clear
Of the fort they built out of
Fallen trees and pieces of dry rot tarp
fashioned like a tepee.
It was dark inside and despite
the dry dusty heat
It still smelled musty.

They had fashioned a fence
that marked the perimeter
Next to the woods,
Made of branches full of dry leaves
With raspberry canes
woven in between like barbed wire.
They built a fire ring from cinder blocks
and had it filled with partially burned logs.
Above it hung,
On a makeshift tripod,
A big black kettle filled with stagnate water
And blackened leaves,
Smelling like the sludge
You dig out of the eve troughs
In spring.

We played cowboys and Indians
With the older boys that day
And they were the Indians
But I don't actually recall
Being a cowboy.
We were captured
Our clothes removed to our underware
Ropes tied around our hands and feet
And we were staked to the ground
Left to bake in the sun, Brian and me.

The ground was hard and dry
And there was no shade
Where they staked us out,
And the cracked earth
From the clay soil baking in the sun
Left creases in our backs
Deeper than any sleep marks
I had ever seen.

At first,
We thought we could escape.
After all,
It was a game, not real.
But the older boys had tied us tight
And we could hear them
In the woods,
But they never came back
Neither one of us ever cried out.

I'm not sure how long we laid there.
It was long after
The sounds of laughter stopped.
I felt parched
And I would try to moisten my dry cracked lips
But it felt like a cats dry tongue scrapping
Across my skin.

I remember as the sun got lower
My brother untying us.
I don't know how he found us
and we never spoke of it again.
We got our clothes on and walked home
Into the sun
With our shadows trailing far behind.

We got big fast, Brian and me
He stands six foot ten today.
The older boys aren't so much older now.
I think we scared them
With our resolve
And by not crying out
And they never played that game
With us again.

They built apartments that fall
In the woods that bordered the fort.
So nothing remains
Of that day anymore.
My kids may never have
Anything like that
Happen to them.
But I grew up in a time,
And a place,
When games were mostly just that.
But since that summer
For Brian and me
This world became
Bitterly real.

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