The Vaults

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BL wasn’t too long out of the navy. He’d failed a drug test on purpose and a year later they’d finally gotten around to releasing him. It was a dishonorable discharge, but he seemed to be willing to do almost anything to avoid another tour on a submarine, especially after they hadn’t let him come home to help clean up his mother’s house after it was destroyed by a tornado. So he was back in the shack in full decompression mode – drinking, smoking, getting high, and, whenever possible, screwing.
Summer was waning. Nights were getting cool and none of us had gotten nearly enough time at our favorite recreation spot, the river. We planned a last-trip-of-the-season blowout complete with a portable bar stocked with vodka, a picnic basket full of sandwiches, and a little plastic baggie of dried Mother Nature.
DB, PM, BL and I piled into my car and headed out early. The sun only hits the best spots in the river for a few minutes in the afternoon, thanks to the steep, wooded surroundings, and we wanted to spend the entire day in the water. By mid-afternoon we were already burnt in every sense of the word.
A family of buzzards had moved into the dead tree that stood over this bend in the river. They flew down and sat on the rock opposite us, staring. We were leaping into the river like drunken lunatics, having a swell time, as they waited patiently for someone to slip. Their heads, bald so that they wouldn’t get their feathers sticky when they poked them into our eye sockets, followed our every movement. The idea that the denizens of the river might literally consume me only made me grin.
BL decided he could probably do a flip off one of the rocks. If he failed, he’d be doing the Nestea plunge from some eight feet off the water. We encouraged the idea that it would be easy, hoping to watch him flatten himself across the surface of the river in a satisfying slap and emerge red and whimpering. He built up his courage and went for it.
Disappointingly, he pulled it off perfectly, tumbling through the air and landing in the water feet-first. The initial success encouraged all of us to try something stupid so we trekked over to our other favorite spot to see what kind of lunacy we could try there. On the way I found a feather, a foot-long shiny black thing. In my drunken mania I declared it a token from the vultures that had obviously blessed us with their protection after passing their tests and surviving. We danced down the trail with me in the lead, holding up the artifact. I designated our tribe as The Flippin’ Idiots. The punny moniker stuck and we joked about it all day.
At the next spot we decided it would be equally easy to flip off the falls into the boulder hole at the bottom – backwards. BL and I pulled off this feat, the bubbly water cushioning our landing.
As afternoon wore on, more and more chemicals were consumed. Believe it or not, though I’d hung out with the stoner crowd since I was15, I’d never smoked pot. Years and years spent sitting in bong-generated smog playing Dungeons & Dragons and listening to Kraftwerk, yet not on a single night did I partake. The first time I’d declined out of fear. After that I was annoyed that it seemed to end all the activities I enjoyed – games, skateboarding, trips to the arcade – nobody bothered once they got good and baked. I’d show up and say, “So let’s play,” but everyone would just mumble and stare into space. Then it became “my thing.” I was the guy that didn’t smoke pot. People would introduce me that way at certain gatherings, “This is Freddy. He doesn’t smoke pot.”
Eventually my pot-smoking friends moved away, joined the navy, had to quit due to medical problems, got married to conservative nurses, etc.
So approaching age 30 I was drunk at the river with my best friends running amok and decided there was no better time or place to give in to the wacky weed. Avoidance wasn’t “my thing” anymore, the fear was long gone, and I didn’t have any plans beyond relaxing all afternoon anyhow. Alas, with half a bottle of vodka in me, I don’t remember being stoned. I barely remember little glimpses of most of the afternoon, such as dropping my sandwich in the sand and deciding it was a good idea to wash it off – in the river.
I also can’t quite remember if I did a flip off the highest rock. BL had impressed me with his skill and I remember climbing up there to give it a try. The rock was some six or eight feet above the base of the falls, not that high but the landing spot was barely six feet across. Outside this hole it was either dry granite or shallow water running over jagged rocks. Afterward some of the witnesses said I’d done it, others said not. Everyone was a bit fuzzy on what had transpired that afternoon.
Eventually we were tired, chilly and/or hungry. I’d driven the route hundreds of times and it wasn’t far, but I’m still amazed I drove us back to the shack without running off the road into the trees where we’d be found impaled and decapitated in the wreckage.
I was in the mood for some games around the dining room table with the guys, but I couldn’t see straight. I clambered up onto the porch and fell into the hammock, “just for a few minutes,” I told myself.
A few hours later I woke up, already a bit hungover. I had been a hanging sack of meat for the mosquitoes and they had sucked half the blood, and alcohol, out of my system. I stumbled into the living room and found the guys sitting around the table, bleary-eyed but still drinking.
“So… let’s… play…?” I mumbled, but I only got the Chinese-eyed “Muh” in response.
I weaved my way into the guest room and crashed on the bed. It was a dark, dank room, hot in summer and cold in winter. The curtains were yellowed with age. Cobwebs decorated the ceilings and I’d rather not think about the floor. The ancient bed was so sway-backed it was no better than the hammock out front. But it was a quiet sanctuary where I could snooze without being drained dry by the bugs.
I woke up to the sound of someone hammering on the door, “Get up, there’s girls coming. We gotta clean,” said someone in the hall. It was dark out. No clock in the room. I had been out for hours.
I moaned, “Just five more minutes,” and was out like a light.
They woke me up another time or two but every time they tried to motivate me their efforts failed.
I woke again when I heard the sound of tires on the gravel outside. I’d been dreaming of cleaning house, probably inspired by the sounds of actual house cleaning. I felt like hell and my bladder was full so I rolled out of bed, the springs groaning in time with me, and headed for the can.
When BL had gotten out of the navy the shack hadn’t been well maintained. The floor of the bathroom had rotted after years of neglect, so BL had drafted some friends and they’d pulled out the sagging tile and replaced it with heavy plywood. To prevent water damage, they painted it with the only can of paint they could find in the shed, a putrid dark green the color of slime. Combined with the pinks and yellows in the room, it could make a sober, sound person feel queasy.
I was far from sound or sober. The half-digested, sandy sandwich leapt from inside me, my bile matching the colors of the room.
Tittering, female voices came from down the hall. One of the girls, L, had been a member of the harem in days past but I hadn’t spoken to her much after the pyramid scheme of women collapsed years before. BL had a thing for her, so he’d invited her up. I figured they’d hit it off since they were both nuts and in similar ways. She brought her friend, S, who I vaguely remembered as being a fun girl.
I washed my face, brushed my teeth, tried to make myself presentable and intelligible and walked out into the living room to greet them. The room had obviously been hastily cleaned, but no amount of cleaning would ever change the basic identity of the place. Fortunately, L and S didn’t mind visiting what an ex-girlfriend of mine had aptly described as “that horrible little shack in the woods.” The ladies were jovial and friendly despite being greeted by four obviously-intoxicated men who still smelled of bug repellent, cleaning chemicals, sweat, and possibly vomit, depending on how well I’d cleaned myself up.
DB and PM could barely stand, so they stopped trying and plopped back down at the dining room table. Over the years, they had been competing to see which of them could single-handedly consume an entire 12-pack of Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull tallboys without passing out or puking. They’d argue over who’d gotten closest or if it counted that one of them had passed out moments after completing the task. They weren’t competing this particular night, but I mention it to give you an idea of the type of hardcore drunks they were at the time.
This left BL and I to take the lead on entertaining the girls. We sat in the living room telling tales of our day at the river and other misadventures.
DB and PM slowly eased out of the conversation, eventually passing out at the table where they sat. BL and I managed to maintain consciousness and kept the girls giggling. Eventually L made her way to my lap. I couldn’t think of a way to deflect her attentions to BL. It was all I could do to stay coherent.
I thought I was feeling better after sipping water for an hour or so while the others guzzled beer and booze so I decided to put something more substantial in my stomach. A banana seemed like a good idea – mild, yet solid and nourishing.
Unfortunately my stomach didn’t agree and I had to push L off my lap and excuse myself. I never told her I was taking breaks from the conversation to puke my guts out.
Back in the living room, BL told tales of his naval adventures, eventually leading to his confession that he’d gotten into country music during his stay in South Carolina. The boot scootin’ bar not far from base had been a good hunting ground for sailors in search of a friendly port, so BL had gotten himself a new Stetson and a fine pair of boots.
The ladies wanted to see them. I joked that he should put them on, and nothing else. The girls laughed and BL shook his head but I caught a certain gleam in his eye.
“Oh, I can tell by that look you want to do it,” I said.
S said, “C’mon, if you get naked I’ll get naked.”
L didn’t wait for any quid pro quo. She stood up and stripped naked and sat back on my lap. I could feel her butt wiggling against me through my thin swimsuit. But my body was more interested in holding down the water I was sipping than in the warm ass pushing on my groin.
BL shook his head at L’s forwardness, laughing, and tried to get S to go next.
“You first,” she said.
BL disappeared to the bedroom. I felt a sense of dread, knowing what I was about to see and where it would lead. I was in no state to charge boldly into that breach, dear friends.
Minutes later BL appeared, his tall, pale form clad only in boots and a cowboy hat, a white trash version of a Chippendale’s dancer.
“Ah hell,” I thought as the girls laughed and laughed. I pushed L off my lap and slid my shorts off. I’d like to say my manhood sprang loose like a raging tiger but even when L sat back on my naked lap the only thing that stirred was my empty stomach. It was overruling all other instincts.
S got naked next. Her shapely form contrasted against L’s lithe body. The scene should’ve been sexy but it was closer to surreal. DB and PM were still passed out a few feet away, unaware of the naked dance BL was doing.
Then there were two naked girls obviously appreciating any attention they could get. And me with my belly feeling exactly like the shack itself – unclean, groaning with every movement, and occupied by chaos.
Of course, one thing led to another. BL and S disappeared to his bedroom. L and I retired to the guest room where again I’d like to say my performance was Olympian but it was a Herculean effort just to keep from running to the can every few minutes.

The girls left in the morning, leaving behind a smiling BL and three other guys who were confused and annoyed about what they’d missed, adding to the misery of hellish hangovers, sunburn and bug bites. But at least I’d woken up long enough to bear witness to the scene.

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