|Illustration by Mitch Handsone|
Winter after winter, Commanding General Pauly Wafflewurst ran the roughest, toughest snow militia in the whole neighborhood. If your family was in possession of fresh baked goods or hot sweet beverages, eventually you’d wake up some morning to find your front lawn host to a Wafflewurst Army snow fortress, its walls strong, its innards bursting with hard-packed snowballs and teeming with prepubescent infantry; its flagstaff flying stars and stripes printed, steamed, sewn, ironed and grommeted for 45 cents an hour in uptown China. At 0800 hours, your son or daughter would receive a telephone call from General Wafflewurst himself, stating his intent to liberate your yummy treats, and giving you one hour to prepare a defense.
Pauly Wafflewurst sat cross-legged on the top bunk, in his flannel Flintstones
footy pajamas, in a house a few blocks away. He liked bunk beds, even though he
didn’t have a brother. He liked having a lower bunk to climb above each night.
“Pauly?” Wafflewurst’s mother, Lillian, paused in the hallway outside of her only son’s door to interrogate him.
“Are you playing video games again?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Well, stop. And come downstairs. Your father’s making breakfast.”
“Okay. Just a minute.”
This Saturday’s scheduled enemy was Dick Jones. Dick Jones lived on Alma
Drive, a block away from the Wafflewursts. Earlier in the week, Audrey Jones,
whom everyone in the neighborhood called “Dick Jones’ Mama,” had prepared what
was widely rumored to be some peculiarly kick-ass hot cocoa; Dick Jones had unwittingly
mentioned as much while talking on a civilian telephone frequency.
He would not have used the telephone, though, had he known that, for the past two years, Pauly Wafflewurst had been wiretapping the neighborhood. And not only that. Wafflewurst maintained a library of high-resolution satellite photographs. These he stored in a wide, shallow box concealed beneath the bottom bunk. He called the box of pictures The Gospel.
Even if Dick Jones’ Mama hadn’t been making “some kick-ass hot cocoa” that
only select “you guys” had been invited to share, General Wafflewurst had a personal
interest in attacking Dick Jones. Because Dick Jones insisted that everyone address
him always as Dick Jones, and never just Dick or just Jones. You can’t do that.
Friday evening before the attack, Wafflewurst studied The Gospel, analyzing tomorrow’s terrain. The Jones family’s house faced east atop a small hill that sloped downward — rather sharply, for a front yard — to the smooth shoulder of a quiet, curbless street called Alma Drive. Rather than build a fort on the top of the hill and risk being seen by Dick Jones’ Mama, Pauly Wafflewurst decided to have his team build the snow fort at the bottom of the hill, near the street. That way, they’d have access to the slushiest snow, which produced a sturdier fortress and harder snowballs. Dick Jones and whatever forces he could gather would have no choice but to build their fort at the top of the hill, near the front porch, where the snow was softer, more difficult to pack.
The army awoke before dawn. Wafflewurst’s official-size lieutenants, Lewis “Skeeter” Lobby and Rush “Scat” McClellan, broke ground at the Jones residence at 0600 hours. At 0611 they were relieved by Sergeants Darnell Drumsfeld and Jeff Gannon. Lieutenants Lobby and McClellan proceeded to solidify munitions. Drumsfeld and Gannon packed and tunneled and snowballed to General Wafflewurst’s specifications for the better part of 90 minutes. At 0745, Chaplain Elron Rovewade delivered the Blessing of the Weapons, and at 0755 Lieutenant McClellan issued the All Systems Go report to General Wafflewurst, who’d been monitoring the construction from the comfort of the top bunk, via satellite feed.
At 0800 hours, Dick Jones’ Mama answered the phone.
“Hello,” said Pauly, one of the neighbor boys. “Is Dick Jones there?”
“Hi, Pauly,” said Dick Jones’ Mama. “You’re up awfully early. Hang on a second. I’ll get him.” She covered the mouthpiece and called upstairs. “Honey! Telephone! It’s Pauly Wafflewurst!”
“Shit,” Dick Jones muttered. Then shouted, “I’ll be right there!” and went to his window, which faced the front yard. Sure enough, there was a huge snow fort set up just a little ways in from the street. “Shit.”
Dick Jones took a deep breath, released it and ran downstairs to take the call. “You have until 0900,” said General Wafflewurst. “And then we’re coming in and taking the hot chocolate.”
“You mean the hot cocoa?”
“Don’t get smart,” Wafflewurst replied, and hung up.
Dick Jones knew the drill. He called his nearby friends — all of whom had received similar phone calls and visits on similar Saturday mornings, and had had very little trouble defending their families’ Rice Krispies bars, chocolate-chip cookies, sweet-potato pies, peach walnut cakes and banana breads from being captured and eaten.
For all its roughness and toughness, Wafflewurst’s Army had never, to the best of anyone’s recollection, been victorious.
Around 0830, Dick Jones’ friends — Roy Townshend, Scott Birnbaum, Curtis McFarland, Richie Turner and Dayshoma — gathered on the Jones front lawn and got to work, observed from below by Skeeter and Scat and Darnell and Jeff and Elron, who sat in the snow in front of their fort, eating candy bars, chuckling and taunting, awaiting their 0900 orders.
At 0859, Dick Jones and friends stood calmly on the lawn’s highest ground. In front of them were five enormous snow-boulders, as high as their shoulders.
At 0900 sharp, General Wafflewurst yelled “CHAAARGE!” into the radio, and Skeeter and Scat and Darnell and Jeff and Elron yelled “CHAAARGE!” at Dick Jones and charged. And Dick Jones and his friends pushed the snow-boulders, one by one, and the boulders rolled rather quickly downhill, between the attackers, flattening their snow fort and rolling to the far side of Alma Drive before resting in what had until then been a hearty row of junipers.
It was over in a matter of seconds.
“CHEATERS!” yelled the general into the radio. “YOU CAN’T DO THAT!”
Neither Skeeter nor Scat nor Darnell nor Jeff nor Elron could respond, for upon seeing the destruction of their snow fort, they’d instantly attacked one another, every boy for himself.
Dick Jones and his friends shrugged, walked back inside, removed their coats and gloves, and sat down in front of the picture window, to watch the infighting over bowls of fresh Irish porridge and steaming mugs of Dick Jones’ Mama’s most delicious hot cocoa ever.