The next few days we enjoy camp life. I make Tom help me dig a latrine, away from the shelter and cooking area. We eat so little that it really isn’t needed. Boiling water appears unnecessary as we don’t suffer ill effects from drinking the water in the swamp. We throw the fish remains into the swamp, so there’s no garbage. I teach Tom how to catch catfish. He whoops and hollers when his first fish is scooped up. We wash our clothes daily, leaving them to dry on tree branches while we fish and swim naked. Tom is ever vigilant to the return of ‘Gatorsaurus. The hatchet is good at cracking open the coconuts. The knife makes it easy to scoop out the coconut meat. Our sex life calms down after the night of the Panther orgy (as we call it). I pursue a ‘we’s brothers’ attitude, showing him affection but not heeding his emotional ups and downs. The Panther orgy may have left him ambivalent about going any further. It makes me uncomfortable that I screwed around with someone so young. We generally jack off together and sometimes do each other. Besides being two years younger, I’m not sure he is really gay, just acting out his hero-worship of me, as Scott did. I smile when I remember what I was like at 14 with Joey and Scott. Tom reminds me that his 15th birthday is coming up. I tell him he’ll still have another year to go until the traditional 16th birthday orgy. That tradition really interests him. He’s pleased that I believe we’ll still be together in another year
“On yer 15th, we’ll visit the hippies and get ta eat their rice and beans. They’ll shure wanna celebrate wid y’all.”
“We cain’t go no sooner?” he whines.
“Truth be told, we gots to close up this here camp and move further into the Everglades.”
“That’s fucked up. We jist got everythin’ set here. Why’s we gots to move?”
“May be quite some time ‘fore we git it all settled with the courts. Them Program goons ain’t gonna stop tryin’ to caitch us’n.”
“We just gonna keep a’movin?” he whines.
“I gots me a plan. We set up 3 to 4 camps, all separated from each other, so’n we kin move from one t’other if theys gets too close.”
“Man, that sucks,” he keeps whining.
“Ya don’t havta stay wid me. I’m shure Vic’d let ya stay wid him. When ya gets caught, jist tell ‘em I mades ya come with.”
He looks bereft. “I ain’t leavin’. Yer my brother,” and he hugs me.
“I’m glad,” I hug him back.
“Tom & Huck fer ever.”
“In like Flynn.”
“I ain’t lettin’ ya inta me ever,” he winks at me.
I tackle him, pull down his jeans and suck hard on his stiff dick. He does the same to me, a classic 69.
Afterward, we wash off in the swamp.
“T’ain’t the same,” Tom observes. “We’s jist brothers now.”
“Hillbilly brothers tryin’ ta make babies wid each other.”
“Sounds like a song.”
“Real country music.”
“Cain’t we just visit the campground one las’ time?”
“S’kay. I gots ta call Jay anyways. I’s hopin’ there some news.
We take down the shelter, storing all the material for the next time. We cover the fire-pit with dirt, scattering the circle of stones.
“It’s called the campfire rule; always leave where y’alls camped out better for the next ones that comes along.”
“Whatever. Y’all jist has ta make me work my ass off.
I slap his naked butt. “There’s still a bit left there.”
We say goodbye to Camp #1 and walk out to the highway, toward the Sawgrass Campground. Vic isn’t back from work, so I sit on his trailer’s doorstep. Tom goes to find the younger residents he has made friends with. When Vic returns, he smiles and makes me feel welcome. I had turned down sleeping with him and worry he might not be happy to see me. The good thing about hippies is they don’t get too excited about anything. The bad thing about hippies is that never get too excited about anything.
“Far out, man. Returned from Alligator Alley. Where’s yer brother?”
“Hangin’ out with the other kids here.”
“Not so much attached to yer hip?”
“Naw. We’s worked that out. Anyone’s been nosin’ around.”
“Yeah. Some geeks in weird uniforms. They left flyers with a reward fer turnin’ ya in.”
“I gots ta see that. We’s wanted desperados.”
“I told ‘em we’d seen ya. Ya said not ta lie.”
“That’s part o’ the plan. Jist be honest. Lies never work with cops.”
“Ya need a ride to 7-11?”
“Yeah. Gots ta call the lawyer. Hopin’ it all gits cleared up soon.”
We drive to town. Jay answers quickly, seeming concerned.
“The County says you’ve been spotted. They expect to capture you soon.”
“Yeah. Our friends said the Program people had come by and posted a wanted flyer for us. But we gots it covered.”
“Y’all don’t needs to play country wid me.”
“Gettin’ ta be second nature. We gots a band, ‘Hillbilly Brothers.’”
“You never cease to amaze.” He says, dropping the twang.
“Any good news?”
“Mike’s gettin’ stonewalled by the Court. They insist you were really getting drug rehab. We’re tryin’ ta prove the County gets kickbacks from the Program, going to some high-level County official.”
“There’s no rehab there. All the inmates are from the Courts. Those papers we had to sign saying we received counseling are a lie.”
“I wish I had better news.”
“Since they’re hot on my trail, I’ll be lyin’ low. Best not to call again.”
“I feel we failed you, Tim.”
“Naw, I can take their medicine. If anything, I’m having a great time, living on catfish and coconuts. Tell Mike I appreciate all he’s done.”
“We won’t give up.”
“S’all right. I kin take cares o’ma’self.”
“A good ol’ boy to the core.”
“What a ride it’s bin.”
I hang up and go back to Vic’s pickup.
“No help there,” I let him know.
“Back ta Adventure Alley.”
“Ha. Yer a trip.”
“Best we not spend the night. Probably they’s got an eye on the campground. I gots ta see that wanted poster tho.”
We speed back to the campground. Tom is pumped we’re on a wanted poster. He’s never been a celebrity before. Vic gives us a beat-up pot to boil water, telling us swamp water will get you eventually if you don’t boil it.
“Ya wants a ride down the Alley so’n ya don’ts havta walk?”
“S’cool. Don’t wantcha bein’ a accomplice or nothin’.”
He feeds us rice and beans until our stomachs can take no more. Vic hugs us goodbye.
I put the pot on Tom’s head, and we walk out of the campground. Our misdirection has the Program cops looking for us on Alligator Alley going west. We head north up Route 27. There isn’t much traffic. Every time we hear a car or truck, we hide off the side of the road. After nightfall there are no cars. We make good time. I figure we will find another hammock leading into the Everglades where we can set up camp #2. After keeping up pretty well, Tom suddenly is exhausted. We’ve walked ten miles already. We nestle in a hollow off the road and are quickly asleep. The rain holds off that night, which I appreciate. It does make me worry that Fall is coming sooner than later.
Tom wakes up first. When I open my eyes. he’s sitting next to me, watching me sleep.
“Ready fer our next a’venture?” he asks. “Jist down the road.”
I smile and nod.
“I loves bein’ ur brother, Huck. First time anyones ever loved me, ya knows that, don’tcha?”
I keep nodding.
“Never tolds ya why I’s in juvie. My older brother always been bullying me, so I runs away. Gots caught and declared a delinquent. Never said why I’s runnin’ an’ they never asked.”
“I’m sorry,” as I pull him into a hug. “I never had a younger brother, so I didn’t knows I’s ‘sposed ta bully ya.”
“S’okay. Ya kin be as mean as ya wants ‘cause I knows ya loves me,” and he kisses me.
“We’s good brothers, ain’t we,” as I kiss him back.
“Shur ‘em, Huck.”
“Shur ‘em. Tom.”
That morning we follow several hammocks that end in the swamp without there being a good camp site. We backtrack to the road and walk further north. Places where there is swamp on both sides of the road are a quandary. If a car or truck comes along, we have nowhere to hide. I look out into the swamp and see a hammock rising from the swamp about 100 yards away from the road.
“We’ll head out there ‘bouts,” I indicate the hammock. “We gots to slog through the swamp a ways, but them cops won’t even think we’s done it.”
Tom looked grim and doubtful.
“I knows ya don’t wants to go in there but we gots ta do it.”
He just nods and takes a deep breath.
“We’ll be safe out there. Hold my hand,” I reach out to him.
“No, Huck. I gots this,” as he steps into the water.
Nothing spooky or scary happens. Soon we reach the hammock.
“Gettin’ purdy brave there, boy,” I congratulate him once we’re back on dry land. “Jist so’s ya knows, we ain’t never goin’ back,” I tell him.
He nods and looks determined. At least we’re not sissy boys.
The hammock is more like an island, going off in several directions. We find a tall tree at least a half mile from the road. No one will know we’re camping there. It takes a couple of days to set up a total campsite. Vic gave us a good supply of matches inside a baggie to keep them dry. We set up a spit to hold the pot and boil our water over a small fire. We don’t want anyone noticing our smoke. After finishing the camp, we set out to explore our island. I want to be sure it is in no way connected to the road. That’s when we discover a whole colony of chickens. A big old rooster comes charging out at us, I guess to defend his hen harem. Tom hides behind me as I kick it before it can peck at me. The rooster retreats while we investigate the hens.
‘”Look,” Tom exclaims. “They’s all got eggs.”
We shoo the hens off their nests and pick up about a half-dozen eggs, causing a big commotion, with the rooster appearing again. Tom chases him away this time.
“I wonder how these eggs’ll taste,” as I eye the feral birds. “Who knows what kinda diet theys had out here.”
I crack an egg open and find a half-grown chick in soup juice. It looks vile.
“I ain’t eating that,” Tom whines.
I take the knife and cut the top off the next egg. Only yolk and egg white is inside. I slurped down the raw egg. It tastes great after nothing but catfish, rice and beans since we’ve been free.
“Yuck,” Tom sneers. “That’s disgustin’.”
“Naw, trust me. Just slurp it down like an oyster. Good fer ya, too.”
“I hates oysters.”
I hand him the knife. He tentatively chips at the egg until it breaks into a dozen pieces. There was another half-grown chick inside. He flings it away. The next one, he more confidently cracks, sees it’s fetus-free and slurps the contents down.
“Ah, tastes great,” then he barfs it all up. His mind doesn’t control his stomach.
“Don’t worry, Tom. We’ll cook ‘em up in a stew. I’s surprised them chickens gits eny thing to et out here.”
“Lookie over there, Huck. Ain’t that rice growing by the swamp?”
“How’dcha know that’s rice?”
“Ah, my gramps has a farm upstate. I has to help wid the harvest.”
He shows me how to cut the stalks which we bring back to the new camp. We husk the rice grains into the pot and boil them over the fire. At the end we add leftover catfish and cracked fresh (as opposed to fetus) eggs into the mix. We have fish chowder for dinner.
Life at Camp #2 is fun. We fish, sow rice, and steal the hens’ eggs. Neither ‘Gatorsaurus nor the Everglades Panther revisits us. I put off setting up camp #3, feeling totally safe on our hammock island. One day we hear the engine of a small airplane approaching. We douse the fire and hide in the shelter which is well covered by palm fronds. The plane is searching the area near the road. We feel perfectly safe.
That night, Tom asks me to sing to him. We are lying by the fire, the autumn night still warm and dry. I explain how much Pink Floyd meant to Jace and me – the whole lunatics on the grass thing, falling asleep holding hands.
“How olds was ya then?”
“I’s 16. Jace 15.”
“Jist like me,” he beams.
“Well, almost. Ya ain’t 15 yet.”
“Was y’alls in love then?”
“Naw. Jist was the first time Jace’s feelin’ loved. We didn’t do nothin’. Here’s the song we said was ‘our’ song.”
I start singing ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond,’ plunking the intro on Tom’s skinny stomach.
(vocals start at 4:34)
I finally start singing:
‘Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
You were caught in the crossfire of childhood and stardom, blown on the steel breeze.
Come on you target for faraway laughter, come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!
You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Well you wore out your welcome with random precision, rode on the steel breeze.
Come on you raver, you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!’
Writer(s): Roger Waters, Richard William Wright, David Jon Gilmour
Copyright: Roger Waters Music Overseas Ltd., Pink Floyd Music Publr. Inc., Artemis Muziekuitgeverij B.V.
Tom giggles and hangs onto me for the first verse, seeing himself in all the words and giving him hope that he shines like a diamond. After the second verse, his mood darkens. He feels the threat of wearing out his welcome.
“Com’n, we kin sing it like a duo. I’ll sing a line and you repeat it. If’n ur voice goes off-key, I’ll harmonize with you. That’s the way Jace taught me ta play guitar.”
He sits up and we sing to each other,
“Remember when you were young
Remember when you were young
you shone like the sun
you shone like the sun
Shine on you crazy diamond
Shine on you cra…’
Tom missed the note. I prompted him:
“Ya gots it. Now do it bys urself.”
We practice the song for at least an hour. After he knows the words and how to hit all the notes, we sing it together. His ear isn’t deaf to the notes. He has a high alto and is nervous about going up too high. I think he worries he sounds like a girl.
“Ya gots a pure, high voice. Let it out.”
That instruction makes him over-confident. He goes back to missing notes. This time he goes above the note he stretches to sing.
With more confidence and me harmonizing him back to the notes when he goes off, we sound pretty good.
“Kin we have a band, Huck? I wants ta be in a band wid you’s.”
“Well, ain’t many fans to perform for out here. We kin practice, then go back to the campground and play for ‘em all.”
Night has fallen and the camp is dark, the fire barely burning. I look out across the swamp.
“Lookee there, Tom. We gots our first fan.”
Two eyes glow in the dark. I can barely make out a panther’s tail swishing back and forth.
Tom huddled behind me.
“Think he wants ta et us?”
“Not unless you start singing off-key again.
I started singing the Beatles’ classic, ‘A Little Help from Our Friends,’ to the panther:
“What would you do if I sang out of key?
“Would you come here and try to et me…’
Writer(s): Trey Parker, Paul Mccartney, David Loeffler, John Lennon, Damon Butler
Copyright: Sony/ATV Tunes LLC, Music Corp. Of America Inc., Gasoline Alley Music
‘Do you need anybody?’ I sing
‘I just want somebody to love,’ Tom sings
“I loves ya, Tom,” I impulsively shout
“Whats ‘bout the panther?”
“I loves him, too.”
“Ur crayzy,” Tom sings. “Bets ya git et.”
“No way. That cat loves us both.”
The panther’s tail keep swishing back and forth.
The autumn days roll by with cooler weather, no rain, and mild nights. We swim, wash our clothes, catch fish, cook chowder and sing to each other as the sun goes down. The panther shows up most nights after dark. It isn’t as exciting as the band. We have only nature for socializing, but it’s as much fun as anything. The torture of the Program fades from our memories. The sex tails off as the passion isn’t really there. Tom knows we’re brothers. Not in the way of his bullying older brother, but because we look out for each other and always back each other up. We get horny and jerk off together, but it stops going further. Tom matures a lot, growing and being so much more self-confident. I worry I’ll start falling for him as he matures, but it doesn’t happen. He asks me about girls, knowing I had girlfriends. I tell him about the escapades and the breakups. He isn’t sure what his feelings are about girls. I know he’ll find out when we return to civilization. It makes me think about being gay – if it’s permanent once you’re an adult. I know it’s easy to go both ways at our age. Most people figure I’m exclusively gay once they know I have boyfriends. Girls seem to like gay boys but appreciate you for being attracted to girls as well. No sense in being stressed out about it in the Everglades. I’m lucky I have a boy to love me without all the drama of high school. I think how I’m missing my senior year. Junior year had been so incredible I don’t think I need any more high school – easy rationalizations.
‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.’ And ain’t I free?
About a month after we set up camp #2, Tom comes hopping into the camp. He has been out exploring.
“I cuts my foot,” he explains, holding up his leg to show me a gash in the sole of his right foot.
“Let me wash it out,” as I take the water pot off the fire and pour it into a coconut shell we use as a cup. After it cools to a tolerable temperature, I clean out the wound. It’s pretty deep. After two days, his foot looks worse, with inflamed tissue around the cut. I was wrong not to take him straight to the campground, so it could be examined by a doctor. I feel his head.
“Ya gots a fever, Tom. I’s takin’ ya to the campground. Ya needs medicine fer it ta heal.
“We gots to?” he complains. “Give me a few days more ta heal.”
“No way. Ya might lose ur foot if’n its infected.”
That gets his attention.
I douse the fire and hide the shelter. I put him on my back so he won’t step on the wound.
“Yer actin’ silly, Huck. I ain’t no invalid.”
“Shut up and look out fer ‘gators,” I tell him as we slog through the swamp to the road. That gets his attention.
Once out on the road, I flag down the first car.
“Hey, mister, kin ya take us ta the campground. My brother’s cut his foot.”
“Stick ‘im in the back,” the man tells me. “And jump in front.”
I see that Tom is sweating and partly delirious.
“I gots ta stay in the back with ‘im. He’s gots a fever.”
“Best, ya goes to the hospital in Lauderdale then. He don’t look so good.”
Tom is barely moaning, rocking back and forth. He understands what was said, sitting straight up in protest. He mumbles something. Then he collapses back against the truck’s bed..
I hold his head.
“Best we git our dad so he kin take us in.”
“Whatever ya say but don’t wait too long. Looks like he gots swamp fever.”
My heart sinks, knowing the man is probably right. He drops us at Vic’s Airstream. Luckily Vic is home from work.
“Howdy, boys. Where y’all bin?”
The man speaks up for us, “I picked ‘em up on the Orlando road. Looks like the young’uns got swamp fever.”
“Holy Shit. Git ‘im in my pickup. We’s goin’ t’ Emergency.”
Vic grabs some blankets. I stretch Tom out in the truck’s bed, getting in and holding his head.
“Thanks, mister,” I tell the man. “He gots real bad so fast.”
“Don’t ya think ‘bout it. Ur dad’ll take it from here. With medicine he’ll be fine.”
He tussles my hair and drives away. I feel like a little kid again.
Vic has us quickly to the Ft Lauderdale Hospital Emergency Room.
“Let me handle this,” he says, when the nurse asks about insurance. He tells them Tom is his son and gives them his insurance card. Tom’s wounded foot is properly bandaged, and shots of antibiotics administered.
“His fever’s pretty high. We’re gonna admit him to make sure it comes down and observe him overnight,” the nurse tells us after a doctor examines him.
They wheel him into a private room and settle him into bed. He’s still delirious. When I hug him, he opens his eyes, looks around, and refuses to let me go.
“Yer in the hospital, Tom. Yer gonna be fine.”
He seems to understand, but the sobs start. We both hang on to each other, sniffing back the tears until he falls asleep.
“Com’n, Huck. I’ll buy ya a steak. Ya looks like a scarecrow.” Vic offers.
After my first real meal in months, we look back in on Tom. He’s asleep. The temperature monitor says 100 degrees, which is three degrees lower than when he came in.
“Wanna come back to the campground. We kin check on Tom in the mornin’.”
Maybe the steak had revved me up. I ask a favor.
“Y’all don’t feel like goin’ ta Miami, does ya?”
“Shure. Why not. Ya gonna show me yer rock star life?”