You Dwell Among Scorpions…Beware!

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You Dwell Among Scorpions…Beware!

James R. Aist

“And you, son of man, … you dwell among scorpions.” (Ezekiel 2:6)

This unusual experience occurred when I was an 11 year old boy, and my next older brother, Johnny, was almost 13. Our father had recently been ordained as a Methodist minister and was simultaneously serving three small churches in rural, north-central Arkansas. This was very much scorpion territory, and my brother and I had often played around with scorpions in the wild, for entertainment purposes. But, we were always careful to avoid being stung by them, because we had been told – by “reliable sources” – that getting stung by a mature scorpion does not end well for the instigator.  When mature, this 2-3 inch long arachnid has a wicked stinger at the tip of its tail that can deliver a powerful portion of painful poison in a split second, if “pressed.”

A Sunday night worship service is the scenario for this short, but true, story. This particular church had managed to build a brand new, albeit small and simple, worship facility. Consequently, the sanctuary had a shiny, sparkling-clean hardwood floor that clearly displayed to the casual observer the presence of anything on its surface. Johnny and I, being preacher’s kids, were sitting together near the front during the service. Directly in front of us was sitting a lady whose legs were so short that her feet didn’t quite reach the floor, leaving her heels suspended above the floor about one inch. (The significance of this little detail will become apparent as the rest of the story unfolds.) As one might expect, we soon became bored with the usual goings on, and our attention was turned to anything else that might be happening during the service. Well, it wasn’t very long before something very interesting did begin to develop on the floor, to our right.

There, in all its glory, was a full-grown scorpion crawling erratically along the slippery floor, heading right for the lady with her heel elevated slightly above the floor. Johnny and I appeared to be the only ones in the sanctuary who saw the scorpion and the dangling heels. I’m not proud of it, but in all honestly, we looked at each other with devilish anticipation of what might very well happen soon. On the one hand, we didn’t really want her to get stung, but on the other hand, we didn’t want to disrupt the service because of something that might not actually happen anyway. So, we decided to just let it play out and plead ignorance if worse came to worst and we were asked why we didn’t say something. I’m not especially proud of this course of action, but give us some credit for planning ahead, alright?

Slowly, but surely, the scorpion inched closer and closer to the dangling heels, sometimes a little to the right and sometimes a little to the left. The closer it got to the dangling heels the greater was our eagerness to see what would happen. Would the scorpion actually crawl under her heels, and, if so, would she decide to stand up at just that very moment, to her misfortune? The suspense was killing us, and we could scarcely contain ourselves. Then it happened: the scorpion did, indeed, crawl directly under one of her heels. Now our eyes were glued to this drama unfolding directly in front of us, wondering if the heel was about to come down on the scorpion, or not.

After a brief pause, the scorpion crawled out from under her heel and continued its journey toward the opposite side of the floor. The lady stood up just seconds after the scorpion had passed under her heel, and Johnny and I both sighed a sigh of great relief. We reckoned that since nothing really happened, we had nothing to feel guilty about. And we were right, weren’t we? Well, weren’t we?

(To read more of my short stories, click HERE)

Playing with Fire(works); a Lifetime of Adventures

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Playing with Fire(works); a Lifetime of Adventures

Warning: Do not try this at home!

James R. Aist

I have had a long-standing fascination with fireworks, especially the do-it-yourself variety. Playing with fireworks offers opportunities to blow things up without getting in trouble for it. It also invites the application of creative juices when one begins to get bored by mindless repetition. Finally, the ever-present threat of bodily harm adds a certain excitement to the entertainment value, perhaps not unlike that experienced by rock climbers and bungee jumpers. Here, I have elected to share with you some of the more interesting or bizarre experiences I have had with fireworks during the course of my lifetime. I hope you enjoy them; I know I did.

Roman Candle Peekaboo

When I was about nine years old and living in very rural Arkansas, we lived on a dirt road off of a dirt road, about half a city block from the small, Methodist church in Cypress Valley. It was Sunday evening, and the Fourth of July was coming up in a few days. But some of the more patriotic young locals had already stocked up on fireworks early, and they came to the Sunday Evening Service with mischief in mind. It was already dark when the congregation was dismissed, and these patriots made a bee-line for their automobiles. There they armed themselves with Roman Candles, touched them off, and began shooting them at whoever was shooting at them from behind the parked cars. It was all I could do to negotiate the parking lot without being shot down myself! And I marveled at the skill these combatants displayed at dodging the fiery darts after first seeing the flash from the candles aimed right at them. Obviously, this was not their first Roman Candle “rodeo.” It was truly a wonder that no one was hurt that night. I was frightened.

Blind Man Standoff

That same night, after the Roman Candles had all been used up, another fireworks battle took place, this time on the road in front of our house. And this time I was able to participate. A group of about 12 willing participants assembled, fireworks (mostly firecrackers, but some cherry bombs and block busters to make it more interesting) were distributed, two sides of six each were chosen, and the two sides stood in a row and then took about five steps back from each other. Since we were now well away from any source of light, it was pitch black on that dirt, country road, and we could barely see anything. I thought it incredulous that they (we) were really going to do what it was obvious they (we) were going to do. And they (we) did. Fireworks were lit by both sides and flung at the other side. You could see them being lit and thrown, and there were explosions all around us. We dodged as best we could while lighting and throwing our own ammunition in retaliation. I soon wished I had sat this one out, but it was too late! Oddly enough, though, no one was hurt in this battle either. But I swore never to do that again!

Arrow Rockets Rock!

Right around that same time, also in Cypress Valley, I invented my first fire cracker weapon. Here’s what happened. I had some firecrackers left over and was wondering how I might set them off creatively. I had a crude bow that I had fashioned out of the trunk of a persimmon bush and strung with bailing twine. A local weed left dry, straight stalks after flowering, and I had crafted these stalks into crude, but suitable, arrows for launching from my bow. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself, “I wonder what would happen if I were to fasten one of those firecrackers to the end of one of those arrows, light the fuse, and then, at just the right moment, fire it into the clear afternoon sky with my bow so as to explode the firecracker at the pinnacle of the flight of the arrow. (OK, OK, at only nine years of age, I wasn’t using advanced, three-syllable words like “pinnacle”, but that’s what I had in mind, I’ll swear it!) Anyway, that’s what I did. It took some practice to get the firecracker to explode at just the right time, but, after a few tries, I had the timing down pat. I would load, light and fire, and the explosion would give off, not only a loud bang high up in the sky, but also a puff of smoke would emerge and drift off slowly, carried by the wind. I had invented the “arrow rocket!” But I didn’t anticipate what would happen with my next launch. Up went the arrow, bang went the firecracker, and puff went the smoke, as before. “But wait, what’s that I’m seeing? Is that a perfectly formed smoke ring? Why yes, yes it is!”, I thought to myself. My arrow rocket had just produced a perfect smoke ring that drifted off slowly, carried by the wind! Was that cool or what!

Firecracker Time Bomb

In an earlier short story, I published a more complete account of my application of this ingenious time bomb (click HERE). So here, I will just relate essential details of its construction and use.

This invention took place when I was about 12 years old and living in Evening Shade, a small town in rural, north-central Arkansas. Now, the key to making a Fire Cracker Time Bomb is to first make a homemade fuse that will produce a delayed explosion of the firecracker, a “timer fuse” as it were, and then insert one end of the timer fuse into the free end of the fuse of a firecracker. As it turns out, the perfect, convenient raw material for a timer fuse is thin, white, cotton string, such as used to be employed to bind a flour sack or a bag of charcoal briquettes. When you light the end of the string with a match and then blow out the flame, the string will continue to smolder and burn shorter and shorter, much like a lighted cigarette left sitting in an ashtray. So, I did some test runs to determine how long the string needed to be to give about a two-minute delay, just long enough for me to make my getaway and appear completely innocent if there was an unexpected “incident.” The action plan was to mosey innocently down to the center of town (about one block), stop at the big maple tree next to the telephone operator’s house on the left; you know, the tree with a huge hole, about waste high, that was facing the sidewalk. Then, I would turn and face the big hole in the tree, reach in and assemble the “bomb” inside the hole so that no one could see what I was doing, light the timer fuse, turn back toward home and mosey innocently up the hill, waiting to see if anyone would be startled by the “bang” so I could watch (i.e., be entertained by) their reaction. And so I did. But, as it turned out, there was no one but me in the area at that moment to hear the explosion, so my prank was a bust (pun intended). Technologically though, it was a huge success. Woo-hoo!

Mater Grenades

This final caper with fireworks has had many variations throughout the years, but I think you might enjoy reading about this one in particular. It happened about 14 years ago at my home in Knoxville, TN. My wife’s daughter and her family were visiting, and the Fourth of July was coming up. The grandson and I were plotting to blow off a few firecrackers and wanted to add some kind of twist to it, just for kicks. Why not blow something up this time, besides the firecrackers, we reckoned.

Now, we were somewhat of a couple of cheapskates at that time, and I began to wonder how we could blow something up without spending too much money on it. As it turns out, a few days earlier, when I was shopping for vegetables at the supermarket, I noticed that some of the Italian tomatoes (you know, the ones shaped like shmoos) were perfectly sized and firm for this adventure, and several were rotting from fungal infections. No one would buy these tomatoes anyway, I surmised. So off we went to the supermarket to buy tomatoes to blow up. Well, sure enough they agreed to give us the rotting tomatoes for free. Now this little trick may not be as simple as you might think. To pull this off successfully, one must first create a clean hole in the tomato just the right size and depth to hold a lit firecracker while flying through the air at high speeds (the tomato, not me, silly!). Aha, a drill is “just what the doctor ordered” I thought. So I got out my electric drill and selected a drill bit of the same diameter as a firecracker.

When the time came for our little entertainment gig, we all went out on the deck (which, by the way, is ten feet off the ground) to enjoy this homemade spectacle. I drilled a hole in the first rotten tomato, and we inserted a firecracker; it fit perfectly.  So, we lit the fuse, waited a couple of seconds, and then flung it violently into the air, away from the deck. When it was about 20 feet from the deck, the firecracker exploded in mid-air, and instantly there was tomato juice, pulp and seeds flying everywhere…BAM…poof! That was awesome, and so we high-fived each other. Then we repeated the process 5-6 times before getting bored. And that’s when we noticed tomato seeds where we didn’t expect them: on the deck, on the deck rail and even on my van, which was parked a good 25 feet or more from the explosions. Now THAT was well worth the trouble!

(To read more of my short stories, click HERE)

My Favorite Pie that Wasn’t!

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My Favorite Pie that Wasn’t!

James R. Aist

When Daddy became an ordained Methodist minister in Arkansas in the mid-1950s, and I was about ten years old, our family became increasingly familiar with the tradition of churches having pot-luck dinners on the grounds after the morning worship service. This transition delighted me no end, because I had already developed a lust for food, especially of the sweet varieties. There was a plethora of different foods to choose from while filling your plate and no limit to the number of times you could return to the food tables for more! Consequently, I became most interested in going to church when I knew there would be a pot-luck dinner afterward. (Hey, cut me some slack; I was only ten years old!)

Speaking of desserts, Mama did a lot of cooking for us, and she was quite good at it. My favorite of all of her culinary creations was her lemon meringue pie; it had just the right combination of sweet and tangy with a gentle taste of lemon, and it always seemed to disappear from the family dinner table far too quickly to suit my taste, so to speak. So, I always looked forward to visiting the dessert tables at the pot-luck dinners to search out and sample the lemon meringue pies on display there.

On one such occasion, I reconnoitered the dessert tables ahead of time, and to my great satisfaction and anticipation there were a half-dozen beautiful and inviting lemon meringue pies just waiting for me to chose one to begin with. The “blessing” was asked, and I hurriedly filled my first plate with fried chicken, fried okra, tater salad and “poke salad.” After dutifully cleaning this plate, I moved on to what I considered the main course: desserts. Eagerly I rushed to the lemon meringue pies, looked them all over carefully, and chose the one most closely resembling the ones my Mama usually made. I was salivating as I drew aside to begin my conquest.

But, instead of the blissful, sweet and lemony satisfaction I was anticipating upon my first mouthful, I was met with a strongly sour, rather sulfurous sensation that nearly gagged me! “What kind of lemon meringue pie is this?”, I thought to myself. “Is it even lemon meringue? What am I going to do now? I don’t want to make a scene by spitting it out in plain sight, but there’s no way I can swallow this bite, much less eat the rest of the piece!” I looked around, desperately searching for a tree I could discreetly get behind and clear my mouth without being noticed. Having found one, I then needed to find a way to ditch the remains of that vile pretender without incident. Thank God there was a trash can handy, off to one side! I quickly made use of it and proceeded to rinse out my mouth with sweet tea, again and again.

The shock of that horrible experience was so severe that I was not sure, at first, if I was up to trying a different piece of pie. But my hankering for lemon meringue pie soon brought me to my senses, and I was soon rewarded richly for my bravery (with a different pie, of course!). And what was the lesson learned? Things are not always as they seem!

You may be wondering what kind of pie looked to me like lemon meringue and made me gag. I don’t know, but my best guess is that it was either a pie crust filled with deviled egg filling and topped with meringue, or some version of vinegar pie topped with meringue. Got any ideas?

(To read more of my short stories, click HERE)

Rabbit Huntin’ Hijinks: Who Needs a Gun Anyway?

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Rabbit Huntin’ Hijinks: Who Needs a Gun Anyway?

 James R. Aist

I was about 17 years old and living in Elm Springs, Arkansas. My daddy was the Pastor of the local Methodist Church. It so happened that the Majorette of the local high School marching band attended that church too. She was very attractive, to say the least, and very popular. I wanted nothing more than to get to know her better. But, how could I manage to even appear on her dating radar?

Well, one day her 14-year-old brother, Danny, having found out that the men in my family like to hunt, asked me if I would take him rabbit hunting. Thinking that this might just be the break I was looking for to get me on his big sister’s dating radar (yes, I was that naïve back then), I eagerly agreed to introduce him to the sport. So, a few days later, we set out with our shotguns and my beagle dogs to hunt an old, abandoned farm place nearby that I knew was almost sure to provide rabbits for us to “harvest.” We pulled into the dirt driveway, exited the car, loaded our shotguns and followed the dogs as they sniffed here and there for the scent of a cottontail. It didn’t take long.

The dogs were “working” the area around a broken-down, wooden shed when suddenly a rabbit sprang from the rubbish and ran for his life through a field out back and into the woods. The dogs were in hot pursuit, baying beautifully as they followed the invisible scent trail left by the rabbit. Now, the success of the hunt depends largely on where you position yourself in anticipation of the rabbit doubling back toward where he started from. So, hoping to make a good impression on Danny, I recommended that he position himself where I anticipated the rabbit would surely return, so that he would get the best shot at it. I took up my post in the middle of an old, dirt farm road that ran straight through the field to the woods, the alternative course that I reckoned the rabbit might take on his return trip.

Well, it didn’t turn out as I had expected, to say the least. The rabbit finally made his turn, alright, but was headed straight for me instead of Danny! Out of the woods he came, loping along just fast enough to stay a safe distance ahead of the dogs. He was running right down one of the two dirt tracks of the farm road, and I had positioned myself between the two tracks. I could hardly believe that he kept running right at me, because surely he could see me standing out in the middle of the open field, right where he was headed. Trying not to divert him away from his death course, I slowly raised my shotgun to take him out. When he got to just the right distance for a perfect shot, I pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. I pulled again, and still no “BANG”; the gun had “jammed.” By this time, Danny had turned and was watching this spectacle from a side angle. I began to panic, because failing to bag this rabbit with Danny looking on was not an option. So, I did the only thing a manly hunter could do in such a dilemma. I waited until the running rabbit was almost beside me on the farm road and made a desperate attempt to take him out with a swift kick to the head.

Believe it or not, my timing could not have been more precise, as the toe of my boot struck the poor creature just behind the head and broke his neck; he rolled over, “dead as a door nail!” I was shocked, but I had to keep my cool so as to maximize the positive impression on Danny, who had witnessed the entire encounter. So, I calmly and nonchalantly stepped over to the dead rabbit, raised him up by the hind feet, and displayed him to Danny as if this were just another routine kill for me. And it worked. Danny had no idea that my gun had jammed and was more than duly impressed by my athletic, though unorthodox, hunting prowess.

I would like to report that because of my magnificent hunting maneuver, Danny put in a good word for me with his big sister, and we began dating, much to my delight. But, alas and alack, that was not the case. I was left with only the reward of knowing that I had, indeed, made a good impression on Danny, albeit with a fortuitous combination of dumb luck and fast thinking (and kicking!).

(For more of my TRUE TALES, click HERE)