I wrote this short story last spring. It’s essentially an autobiographical account of Homecoming Week here in my southern, suburban town of Hendersonville, Tn. It was published in the 2016 edition of the journal Squatter’s Rites.
The Battle for Sanders Ferry Park
by Jeremy Stevens
“You know; I wrote a book once! If you can dig up the name of it, I’ll give you a hundred points of extra credit…”
It was 1997, long before you could just ask Google for the answer to a simple, but obscure question like that. The only thing the Internet was good for back then was, well- I guess you could call it research. The clock on the wall ticked and ticked… Coach Reynolds was going on about something English-related, but, who could listen? There was an excitement that could almost be felt on the air on this afternoon, and every second that passed brought the students one second closer to freedom. But this was a different kind of excitement than on any other day of any other week because this was Homecoming Week. In the 90s, during that one special week, every single year, the Freshman, Sophomore, and Junior students of Hendersonville High School battled the Seniors to the death every night. Ok, maybe not to the death, but it was pretty serious business nonetheless.
David, a Junior, owned two shirts. One was his football jersey, and the other was a plain t-shirt except that it said “Weezer” across the chest. This day, he was wearing his Black-On-White/Gold football jersey, number 40. He had long-since tuned out Coach Reynolds. Bored almost to the point of laying his head on his desk for a nap, he started drawing little football plays on the inside cover of his English book. These were the plays that he wished they would run on Friday night against Brentwood, instead of that same Sweep/Waggle shit over and over again. Hardly the second-coming of Phillip Fulmer, David just wrote the same 3-4 plays over and over again, until that became boring, too. And there was still thirty-five minutes left in class! David was struck with an idea… He could play some paper football! That would spice up his time in class; it had been a couple of months since he had done that. As an added bonus, it would give him an excuse to talk to Erika.
Erika was absolutely the spitting image of Joey Potter from Dawson’s Creek, and this was not by mistake. She spent hours perfecting the hairstyle and the clothes, all the way down to the overall-shorts and strappy summer sandals. David didn’t watch Dawson’s Creek, but he knew what he liked-
“Hey can I borrow some paper?”
“Again? That makes every day for like two weeks now,” said Erika.
“Come on, I want to make us some paper footballs so I can kick your ass,” he said with a smirk. David was nothing if not a smooth talker. But he saw this was going nowhere, so he changed the subject.
“Hey did you hear that the Seniors stayed up all night filling five-thousand water balloons with piss?”
“Ewwww, they did not,” she said.
“Yeah they did, my brother Phil told me. He saw it with his own eyes.”
“Oh my god,” she shrieked, “he watched people pissing into balloons? How does that even work?”
“Oh, they didn’t use real piss, that wouldn’t be right. They bought hygienic deer piss at a Hendersonville Sporting Goods. Phil said it was more expensive than they expected though, so they only got enough to fill up a hundred balloons with it. The rest were just plain water.” He added, “Hey I was thinking, you wanna ride with me and Jake to Sanders Ferry tonight?”
David didn’t need to expand on why he was going to Sanders Ferry that night. Everybody in the City of Hendersonville knew what was happening at Sanders Ferry that night. It was to be the end-all water balloon battle to beat all previous water balloon battles. They battled every day of Homecoming Week. Some battles were planned out, such as the one at Stark-Knob Boat Ramp the night before. And others were more impromptu, such as when Seniors saw Underclassmen at a red light, got out and pelted their cars with water balloons. But, this particular night was the big one. It was Thursday, the day before the Homecoming Game, so it was the last night of the water balloon wars. Unfortunately, the Seniors had an almost insurmountable advantage. They had early dismissal, except for the football players, of course, but their numbers were few compared to the entire Senior Class. They had an extra hour and a half to prepare for the night’s battle, meaning they could set up positions and have people ready early. Rumor had it they would have flank points all over Sanders Ferry Park, and they planned to have dozens of Seniors with balloons hiding in the only entrance point to the park, waiting to hit all the underclassmen as they entered the park.
David answered, “Hendley, we’re taking old blue out to the park. It’s good luck. Last year, we drove it up to a Senior’s house where he and his buddies were playing basketball outside. Everybody in the bed of the truck started pelting the Seniors. It was fucking legendary.”
“Well,” she said, “alright. What time?”
Hook. Line. Sinker.
“We get out of football at 3:00. We’ll go change clothes, and fill up balloons, but we’ll be there by 5:00.”
Old Blue was Jake’s 1960 Ford F-100. It looked pretty good for an antique, except that the bed was rusted. It was a piece of junk, but for Homecoming Week, it was perfect as the bed was used for transporting additional people, as well as coolers, to the battlegrounds. The kid behind the wheel- Jake, was the dumb guy in the group. Every group has one. Picture Steve Stiffler, but dumber.
At about 3:00, David and Jake were taking a knee with the team. It was the end of practice, so as always, the coaches were giving speeches. Coach Lassiter liked to mix his Copenhagen with his chewing gum. The combination of dip-spit mixed with saliva resulted in a tobacco spittle that went flying everywhere when he got excited. This practice, he was screaming like a lunatic, spitting pieces of chewing tobacco all over the place, so that it landed on the helmets of the players on the first row in front of him.
“You oughta be pissed off now boys! This is it, you’re finally playing somebody richer than you are! Buncha’ pussies!” Of course, any time a coach cursed like this, it was met with thunderous applause from the team, and this day was no different.
After practice, Jake and David had made their way over to Jeff’s house, “Come on, man. The Seniors already have an hour-and-a-half head start on us. Can we fucking go?” Jake pleaded with Jeff to hurry, but as many times as he had picked him up at his house, he shouldn’t have been surprised. Standing in his living room in only his underwear, brushing his teeth, it was enough to make Jake rage. David sat and watched a Weezer music video from Jeff’s couch.
Eventually, the three of them made it to Erika’s. Her parents were more than a little suspicious of sending their daughter out with these idiots. It never occurred to Jake that the six-foot tall water balloon slingshot he and David had built in the back of his truck out of inner tubes and a baseball mitt would look bad to her parents. But, eventually, they relented and Jeff got into the bed of the truck to make room. He rode with the coolers out to Sanders Ferry. They had managed to fill up close to five-hundred water balloons between them, and there were three coolers in the back of Old Blue.
Imagine a small, hilly golf course, lakeside, with a circular driveway surrounding it. Then, instead of putting greens, imagine a dozen small shelters for family picnics and birthdays, with dozens of acres in between each shelter. There is only one entrance available to the public (there is another but it’s gated and locked), and it’s a winding, mile-long stretch through the woods. That’s Sanders Ferry Park. On a night like this night, the tactical advantage the Seniors had couldn’t be overlooked. In fact, Old Blue was hit dozens of times making their way through the park’s only entrance. This was expected, so the windows were already up. Unfortunately, poor Jeff was in the bed of the truck so he wasn’t so lucky. He had been hit multiple times, so he laid as flat in the bed of the truck as he could, yelling, “Hurry up!” Note that Jake slowed down as he and David chuckled.
Once the group made their way in, it was getting close to dark, and there were already close to a hundred underclassmen grouping together, trying to come up with a game plan. This wasn’t an unwritten rule or anything, but generally the fight began when it was full-dark outside. The scariest sight at the park was a lumbering giant weaving in and out of the crowd. Chad, the Right Tackle on the football team, was six-foot-five and weighed two-hundred fifty pounds. His face was painted like a demon with white and neon yellow paint, and his head floated in the dark above the rest of the crowd.
There was much conversation about how the underclassmen out-numbered the Seniors two-to-one, so this should be easy! Jake, David and Jeff decided that it was time to make a bold move. Strike first! The idea was to take out their coolers! The two groups were separated by a hill, right in the middle of the park. So there were essentially two ways to reach each other, straight on, over the hill, or to go around and try to sneak up on them in a maneuver that is still referred to in some circles as the great suicide run of ’97.
Tired of losing every major battle of the week, Jake made up his mind and shouted, “Anybody want to go take it to them first this time?”
I mentioned that Jake was stupid, but what he did next was next-level stupid. Along with Jeff, David, and Erika, he recruited his little brother Jody (who had met them at the park). After they were were loaded into Old Blue, the battalion made their way around into Senior territory. They were hoping to catch their flank unaware, as the Seniors were still working on the details of the attack. Jeff would man the Slingshot in the back, and Jody would man the coolers, handing off to Jeff.
Once they were about a hundred yards away, Jake slowed to a creep and aimed the truck directly at the coolers, which the Seniors had foolishly failed to spread out, leaving them vulnerable and all in one location. The goal? Take out those coolers and leave the Seniors without any ammo! Jake reached up to the gearstick on his manual transmission (which was on the column in Old Blue) and put it in neutral, and hit the gas to rev the engine. He did this to get their attention. He didn’t want to hit any humans, after all, just coolers. As soon as the Seniors turned to look, he threw Old Blue into first gear and stepped on it. The tires squealed magnificently and he made a direct line toward the coolers. Most of the Seniors started running for cover, but a few could see that if they moved, they’d be left helpless, and refused to move out of the way. Among the reckless Seniors playing chicken with Old Blue were the football team’s Wide Receiver and Quarterback, both named Matt. Jeff was doing his part in the bed of the truck, firing the slingshot at them, but they had a strong resolve. They were firing back with their own balloons. No Senior class had ever been embarrassed before, and they were going to be God-damned if they were going to be the first. So at the last second, Jake lost the game of chicken and was forced to swerve left. Disappointed, they headed back to the underclassmen side of the park, and what was worse, Jake was afraid he had screwed up his truck because he heard something dragging underneath the chassis. When they got out to inspect the damage, David got underneath the truck and discovered that there was no damage, only two coolers. They hadn’t completely failed after all! He got out from underneath the truck, face red as a beet. ‘Fired up’ doesn’t even begin to describe his demeanor. He held the coolers over his head and screamed at the top of his lungs,
“We got the coolers!”
The crowd, which had now swelled to over five-hundred underclassmen, absolutely erupted at this announcement! But instead of fizzling out, the sound just got louder, and louder… Until eventually, the sound felt like an earthquake, and sounded like a tornado. It was coming from the other side of the hill. But what the hell were they doing? If you’ve ever seen the movie Braveheart, you may be able to picture what happened next. In the movie, the Scots, led by William Wallace, came pouring down the hill, a massive congregation of warriors. Well, this is exactly what happened at Sanders Ferry Park, except it was a bunch of pissed off Seniors, led by Quarterback of the football team! The earth shook as they came streaming over that hill like ants, hundreds of them. Every one of them were armed with balloons, and they were PISSED! And from their vantage-point, some dumbass had just tried to run some of them over with a truck! The Seniors proceed to wipe the floor with the Underclassmen. The Underclassmen started to break ranks, some backing up, and others just started to make a run for it. Jake, characteristically, runs toward the action, and before having the chance to hit one person with a balloon, is spotted by the football team’s Wide Receiver, Matt, and is struck directly in the face! Everything went black for what seemed like two or three minutes, and he tried his best to walk in the opposite direction since he was completely helpless. Since he couldn’t see, he was worried he was walking directly into Senior territory. He suspected he had been hit with one of the dreaded (often-accused, but never proven) ice balloons! But, that didn’t matter now.
He knew that they had lost, regardless of his own issues. And he was right, when he regained his sight, he spotted Hendersonville Police Department cars making their way through the entrance point and blocking off the park. No way in, and no way out. The second thing he saw was David making out with Erika in the bed of his truck, but that’s not pertinent to the story. Mercifully, the police announce over their loudspeaker that the fun is over, and that they were going to be checking every car on the way out. But, there were only a half-dozen of them, and a thousand of us, so while the students waited in line, they all proceeded to hide their coolers in the bushes. Looking back, the police probably didn’t give a damn about coolers full of balloons, but were probably looking for cases of beer. But, if that was the case, they would have been disappointed. There was no alcohol in those coolers because that wasn’t the game. The game was teenage suburban warfare, nineties-style.
Thanks for reading! If you are so inclined, go pick up my book (available on Kindle or paperback) at Amazon. It’s called “Jamey Jones and the Sons of Noah.” It’s a fun science fiction book about a group of teenagers living on a planet called Kepler 438b. It’s seventy pages long, inexpensive, and it’s kinda good, even if I say so myself.