“Elijah! Yo, dude! Your sister’s gone A.W.O.L.” Four boys in swim suits clouted each other with pillows in the half dark. Elijah dodged an incoming feather bag and spun towards the squirt who’d yelled.
“Jaime’s gone—MWOOF!” Chip got a pillow full in the face. Elijah whooped, raised his pillow and charged the offender.
“Chip!” he yelled, beating the other kid on the brain, “up face and report for pities sa—” He flung himself on the wet grass and rolled, narrowly missing a tail feathering. With two fingers stuck in his mouth he whistled shrilly. The pillow war stopped.
Heavily panting, the boys congregated around Elijah.
“S’up?” breathed Itch.
Elijah dusted his grass stained knees and grinned, “Chippy’s got something to report.”
“Better be good.” Itch said, narrowing his eyes at the squirt.
“Like I said, Jaime’s gone A.W.O.L.” Chip crossed his arms and stuck his chin up at Itch.
“A.W.O.L?” muttered the guys.
“Melodramatic.” Pronounced Elijah.
“I am not hyperbole-ing nothing!” Chip said, yanking a crumpled pink note out of his back pocket. “See? Here!”
Jeremy shoved his face up to the paper, trying to get the first look. “Ugh, that thing smells like flower vomit!”
Elijah unceremoniously swiped the note. “Captain’s rights.” He examined it suspiciously, standing with a finger to his chin in deep thought. “Welp.” He said, “This is not a case of A.W.O.L.”
Itch jabbed Chip in the side with a smirk.
“This,” Elijah continued, “is a kidnapping.” There was a murmur of surprise. Elijah paced a couple feet, whipped Phil’s baseball cap off and stuck it on his own head. He stood up tall, his arms crossed over his ribbed torso. A soft breeze ran through the surrounding trees and ruffled his hair. “Boys,” he said in a commanding voice, “You know what this means don’t you? It means war! We’re going to rescue Jaime!”
“Hmmph, she ain’t much of a damsel,” said Itch
“She is too!” said Jeremy. “You shut yur trap or I’ll rub yur face in poison ivy!”
“Easy,” grinned Elijah, putting an arm around the freckled kid. He turned to Itch and smacked him in the arm, “Jaime is of the pack and therefore deserves rescue. Besides, she got less willies than you wagon launching into the duck pond.”
Itch turned bright red, “I wasn’t willied, I was sick with the mumps!”
“Sure,” said the guys jostling the tomato face. Phil stole back his baseball cap.
Elijah stepped a few feet away from the pack and looked up at the now starry sky. He whiffed the air, heavy with acidic pine and pillow dust. Chip and Jeremy stepped beside him, like two wiry gnomes.
“Where d’ya think she’s been taken, then? Asked Chip, his forehead wrinkled.
Elijah turned, digging his bare toes into the loam. “I’ve got a hunch.”
The boys dropped their pillows into a lumpy pile and sprinted into the woods. Elijah led the way, tawny back slinking between shadows. Bare feet thudded, rustled, and sprang over the turf. Moonlight twined and jumped between leaves and grinning teeth. Chippy and Jeremy tumbled in the soil, bursting into throaty laughter. Itch growled at them as he thumped by, smacking Jeremy on the arm. They came to the edge of the wood, lights sprawling spidery across the hills. Elijah stopped abruptly and the boys smeared into the dirt, panting.
“There.” Elijah pointed to a dinky pink cottage. It rose up daintily between manicured rose bushes, each stone as smooth as a bar of soap. Phil whistled softly.
“The Pinks? Shor’ going to need more sufisticated weaponry.”
“Yur not willied are you?” demanded Jeremy, sticking his face up at Phil’s, “Jaime’s of the pack.”
Phil pushed, “Heave off, shrimp.”
A mischievous light sprang into Elijah’s eyes. “Guys, this is going to be totally aggregate!”
“Yah,” said Chippy, “wicked awesome!”
“But,” said Elijah, “Phil’s right. Itch, you’re weaponry, take Jeremy to help you carry the stuff.”
Itch stuck his thumbs into his pockets and hiked them up importantly, grinning at his newly designated flunky. Jeremy rolled his eyes, turned, and dissolved into the dark. Itch growled and followed after.
Within a few minutes all the boys were armed with pea guns, slingshots, sticks, and homemade stink bombs.
“Dude,” Chip complained, “You forgot the war paint!”
Itch shoved him, “We used it all for ambushing last week, unless you want to use your momma’s lipstick.” He doubled over laughing.
“Alright,” said Elijah, “Chippy and Philbuster take the back wall. Itch, you get creekside, Jeremy roadside, and I’ll take the front. Investigate, look in the windows, see what you can find out. Don’t compromise our location. Report back here double time. Split!”
“We can’t see nuffin, boss!” Phil said, back under the trees, “All the curtains are pulled tight.”
“They’re up to no good.” Itch agreed ominously.
“Reeks! That’s what.” reported Jeremy. “They’re making stink bombs for sure!”
“What’s our plan?” asked Chip. “Jaime’s not here for strategy.”
“We go in, we rescue Jaime and we get out.” Said Phil, “That’s obvious.”
“That’s not a strategy,” grumbled Itch.
“We’re going to have to be brave.” Elijah strode back and forth down the line. “Put those shoulders back, chin up, smart-like boys! This is no time for fear, this here is war, boys. It ain’t going to be an easy operation, but by the honor of the pack, we’re going in!”
The line of boys shifted, straightened, they stood taller. They pressed their lips together in a grim line and narrowed their eyes at the cottage.
“Pinks.” Growled Itch.
“Say ‘aggregate.’” Commanded Elijah.
“Aggregate.” Chanted the boys.
Elijah spun on one foot, brandishing his pea gun in one hand and stink bomb in the other. The other boys fell into ranks behind him. Together they marched up to the front door. Elijah jabbed one finger into the door bell. Ding-dong, ding-dong, it chimed melodiously. Itch shivered.
“Steady,” whispered Elijah through gritted teeth.
Footsteps approached the door. Muscles tensed, knuckles whitened, knees crouched for the spring.
A slim blonde girl with glitter on her lips and a pink summer dress opened the door. “Pink!” screamed Itch, terrified.
“Where’s Jaime?” demanded Jeremy.
“Charge!” roared Elijah. The boys took a collective breath, brandished their weapons and slammed their way through the front door. The blonde screamed. A chorus of screams replied, coming from all directions, slicing into their ears.
Phil fell to the ground, writhing. “Shoot ‘em! Shoot ‘em and make it stop!” Jeremy slammed his body into the wall and raised a pea shooter, peeking into another room.
“Incoming!” he shrieked and dove across the opening. A perfume bottle landed on the floor and shattered. Gasping and groping, Chip wiped at the liquid spattering his face.
“Gas.” He choked, “they’ve gassed me.”
“Cover me Itch!” yelled Elijah, grabbing the collar of Chip’s shirt and dragging him across the floor. Pea shooters whizzing, the boys advanced into the kitchen. Little bullets pelted a girl at the stove. She turned and flung a pot of hot oatmeal onto Phil.
“Have a facial!” she yelled, retreating into another room.
They had captured the kitchen.
Jeremy ran to the sink, filled up a Tupperware with cool water and dumped it on Phil’s arm. Phil grimaced bravely and scraped the mushy oatmeal off. Jeremy refilled the Tupperware and poured it on Chip’s face. He sputtered, gagged. “I can breathe,” he said weakly, “I can breathe.”
Elijah crouched by the door, pea shooter aimed and ready. “Itch,” he called, “status report!”
Chip felt his face, “Jeremy,” he whispered, “is my face melted off? Am I deformed?”
“Yur the man!”
“Chippy, Philbuster,” Elijah demanded, “can you still fight?”
“To the death!” cried Phil.
“For Jaime!” screamed Jeremy as Chip jumped to his feet.
“Pink.” Moaned Itch
And with that, they piled out of the kitchen and into the room the oatmeal girl had gone into. Immediately, they were enveloped in a thick fog of nasty smelling steam and gaseous fumes. A girl screamer band blared from a boom box and menacing feminine faces appeared and disappeared in the fog.
“More facials?” someone giggled. Blobs of cool sticky glup spun through the air and attacked Elijah’s face. Someone sprayed glitter onto Itch’s hair. Chip tripped in the thick, fluffy carpet and landed face to face with a fuzzy stuffed squirrel. He screamed.
The pack of boys broke apart, losing each other in the fog.
Jeremy was tackled from behind by three girls with blue, fish-gill eyelids and purple lips. He gulped and thrashed, felt a searing pain across his face.
“I love this new eyeliner.” Tittered one of the girls.
“Yes,” said another, “the brand is superb.”
“And it’s waterproof!”
“We need a plan!” screamed Phil from somewhere in the fog.
“Jaime,” yelled Elijah desperately, “Jaime where are you?”
“Over here!” Jaime yelled, her voice coming from the corner. “I’m tied up!”
“What do we do?” Elijah fought off a spray of glitter to his left.
Itch stumbled in the direction of Jaime’s voice. The blonde in the pink dress materialized out of the fog and kicked him hard, blocking his path.
“Would you like your eyelashes curled?” she asked in a syrupy voice, jabbing a cruel looking metal tool into his face. Itch stared at it in horror.
“No torture!” yelled Chip as he crawled arduously across the floor, “that’s against the rules of combat!
“All’s fair in love and war.” The oatmeal girl sang out from behind, aiming a perfume bottle toward him.
“No, no, no!” Chip’s voice cracked, “not the gas!”
“Rally together!” demanded Jaime from the corner, “They’re picking you off one by one!”
Phil laid into the three girls who’d captured Jeremy and drove them off. He slapped Jeremy’s face and revived him.
Elijah struggled to his feet. “To me!” he yelled, “to me!”
The boys waded through the quagmire of oatmeal blobs, perfume and fingernail polish. They inhaled shakily.
The pinks seemed to be closing in. Evil giggles echoed from all directions accompanied by a rain of deadly artillery.
It was only by sheer force of will that the boys kept from abandoning their posts. They stood backs together, firing their pea shooters.
“We’re going to die!” Itch wailed in an unbelievably high pitched voice.
“Stink Bombs ready!” Jaime’s chair rattled in her excitement.
“Ready!” said Elijah.
“Aggregate!” yelled Jaime.
“Aggregate!” screamed the boys.
They raised their arms and flung stink bombs across the floor. Bursting liquid filled the room with the sweet smell of rotten eggs, acid and pine smoke.
A chorus of squeals climbed octaves until the window panes rattled. There was a mad rush for the door.
The fog lifted a little and Elijah strode across the room. There was Jaime, tied to a chair. Her brown hair somersaulted in all directions, plastered here and there with glitter. Lipstick was swiped across her raised chin.
“Bust me out of here!” she greeted the guys.
Jeremy did the honors.
“You stink,” said Chip, “did they gas you too?”
Jaime nodded, “That’s how they got me in the first place.” They all stood there in silence for a moment, shuffling their feet. “So,” said Jaime, “I have this great idea for a water balloon ambush…”
Elijah broke into a grin. Phil cranked open a window and they all hopped out.
“Fresh air!” breathed the boys.
The pack collectively turned and galloped down the hill. The wind carried away the perfume, the dewy grass wiped off the carpet lint. They all reached the bank together, launched themselves into the air and fell with a great, muddy splash, into the duck pond.