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>Slings & A Mob

September 26, 2010


I was fifteen or sixteen when the incident recounted here occurred. Teens can do some wonderfully stupid things and this was one of them (altho not really so “wonderful” I guess.)

One day my friend Val was over visiting and Jose brought out a sling to show us, the kind that David used to slay Goliath.
Vamos, I’ll show you how to use one of these.” We followed him out to a nearby field, wondering just what you can do with what looked like a piece of  tangled rope.
Jose stopped and picked up a rock, placing it in the webbing of his sling, hefting it to judge its weight. “You have to use just the right size rock in order to get the best distance.” He squinted off into the distance. “See that old fence post over there?” he asked, pointing to one about seventy-five yards distant. We nodded and Jose started whirling the sling around his head, faster and faster. At just the right moment he released one end and the rock shot into the air in a graceful arc, striking the ground about a yard beyond his target.
“Damn! Too hard.” Another rock and he reloaded the sling and started whirling it again. This time there was no “Damn!” The rock hit the post dead-on.
“Mmmm!” a little grunt of satisfaction from Jose. Val and I, of course, were immensely impressed and we immediately pleaded with Jose to show us how to make and use a sling.
Over the next hour he showed us what kind of rope to use, how to make the webbing, how long the ropes attached to the webbing should be and how to attach them. Our first clumsy efforts resulted in slings that simply fell apart or we made the webbing too big, letting the rock fall through, or the ropes attached to the webbing were too long or too short. Eventually, though, we each had a sling that Jose deemed acceptable, even if only minimally so, and we rushed out to the field, eager to try them out.
Once we were ready, a pile of rocks we’d collected in front of us, we aimed at the same fence post Jose had hit on his second try. Val loaded up first. He whirled the sling around his head just as Jose had done and then let go. His rock flew straight up and we had to jump back to avoid being hit.
“Great shot, Val!” The smirk was evident in my voice.
I bent over to pick out one of my rocks, examining them as if I knew just what kind of rock I was looking for. I didn’t, of course, but that was beside the point. I selected one and loaded it into my sling. “OK! Watch this!” and I wheeled it over my head, letting go at what I was sure was the just the right point. My first attempt didn’t go straight up, but neither did it go straight. As a matter of fact, my sling fell apart and it didn’t go anywhere. Val doubled over, laughing.
“You boys keep trying. I’m going where it’s safe!” and Jose, smiling, turned and left.
And keep trying we did. We made sling after sling, each one holding up a little better than its predecessors. We went out to the fields to practice our marksmanship, each practice session paying off in increased distance and accuracy. The distances we achieved initially ranged from one to maybe twenty yards and we got pretty excited over the twenty-yard throws. We made slings of different sizes and we experimented with different kinds of rope and twine, different ways of knotting the components together. In the fields, we tried different sizes and shapes of rocks and after a couple more weeks of practicing we were probably just about as adept as Jose. Our range was seventy-five to one hundred yards and, we could break bottles at fifty yards, although not necessarily on the first try or on every try.
From the first Jose reminded us regularly about safety. “Don’t spin that thing around until you’ve checked to make sure your partner isn’t too close. And never, ever, hurl rocks when there’s anyone in sight or anything that could be damaged by a rock. You may be good and you may think you know what you’re doing, but accidents happen. Be careful!”
And we were very careful, always making sure no people or animals were around, nothing we could damage. Well, almost always.
A Mob
“Hey, I’ve got a great idea!” I don’t remember if it was my idea or Val’s or why we even decided it was a good idea. “Let’s stand way back from the highway, wait till there’s no traffic, and see who can sling a rock closest to the pavement.” Kind of like pitching pennies. We both thought it was a cool idea and so we marked off a distance that was probably about a hundred yards. Even if we tried we’d be unlikely to hit a bus or any other vehicle from that distance should one come by.
Even though one hundred yards was occasionally within our range, our first throws proved to be woefully short so we began edging closer. Soon we were at a point where our rocks were landing just where we wanted them, a couple of yards short of the highway. That’s when our Good Idea evolved into our Great Idea: Let’s see if we can time our throws so the rock lands just as a bus is passing by! As I said, I don’t know whose idea it was or why we decided to actually do it anymore than I know why I thought it would be great fun to throw firecrackers under the bus in Chapalita. Or why, when I was four, I wanted to find out what would happen if I put my finger under the needle of Mom’s sewing machine and stepped on the pedal. (Blood happens. Blood and pain. And screaming.)
SNAPSHOT: Val and I are literally running for our lives across a recently plowed field. The mob of angry men chasing us leaves no doubt what their intentions are.
We had no real desire or intent, of course, to actually hit a bus, but neither did we give any thought to the possibility that it actually could happen. And it did. One of us (again, my memory conveniently fails me) let loose a mighty heave. We watched as the rock arced gracefully, almost leisurely, towards the highway. Then we heard the sickening THUNK! as it hit a bus broadside, just below one of the windows.
The bus came to an immediate stop and people began piling out. Since we were standing in plain view with the slings in our hands, there was no question in their minds as to where the attack had come from. The driver pointed at us, yelled something and began racing towards us, followed immediately by another half dozen men. No question what was on their mind. I dropped my sling, turned and started running, wondering how Val could already be ahead of me.
Three things worked in our favor. First was fear – we both knew we might be literally running for our lives and we were both desperately hoping that fear could outrun rage. Second, we had a good head start. Third, we had a detailed, map-like knowledge of the area and we both knew that ahead of us was a ravine we’d often ridden through on horseback.
“The ravine, Val, the ravine!”
“I know, I know!”
The chase unfolded in slow motion, due only in part to the soft earth that sucked at our feet, trying to pull us down and hold us back for the mob. My senses were on high alert. I heard the mob’s shouts as if they were only a few feet behind us instead of nearly the length of a football field. My vision opened up to take in untold meaningless details: clods of dirt, a small purple flower. Fear prickled my skin. Predator and prey.
We reached the ravine and, still running full tilt, jumped the six or seven feet down and continued running along the sandy bottom, the angry shouts of the men behind us like hounds nipping at the fox’s heels.
SNAPSHOT: The ravine is overgrown with vegetation, an oasis among all the other dry, sandy ravines. You can’t see us and fortunately neither can the mob.
The ravine we were in criss-crossed several others in its course, a maze we were both familiar with. I knew where Val was headed. There was a smaller intersecting ravine coming up on our right. Its sides and bottom were largely overgrown with scrub brush and tall grass due to a small stream of water running through it. If we could make it that far we could crawl in under cover and we might be safe. It would be difficult to track us and all the vegetation would make it impossible to see us from above. It was our best hope. It was our only hope.
We reached the spot where the ravines cross and we turned down the smaller one, Val still in the lead, making our way another twenty-five yards or so through the vegetation until we heard the shouts of our pursuers. We curled up under some brush, giving silent thanks that it was spring and everything was in full foliage.
Nothing I’ve ever done has been more difficult or terrifying than lying there in the sand, hearing the angry shouts as the men giving chase broke up into smaller groups, fanning out through the ravines. I was completely winded and my lungs cried out for great big gulps of air that I couldn’t give them without giving us away. I lay there, mouth wide open, trying to breathe slow and deep, hoping I was breathing silently, hoping I wasn’t shaking the foliage above me.

We heard the men running back and forth, poking into the brush and exploring the main ravine. Then I heard one of them coming up our ravine, kicking vegetation aside, poking about with a stick, and I had the irrational thought of wishing I were a fawn so I couldn’t be sniffed out. He came within a few yards, close enough for me to see the stick he carried. I closed my eyes and prayed, wondering who would ever find me here when they finished with me.
Then, a shout. “¡Muchachos! ¡Vengan! I think I found their tracks!” The man with the stick turned and I could hear him running towards the voice. At the same time, I felt a warm wetness as my bladder, maybe in sympathetic relief with my mind, relaxed.
Finally, there were no more voices, no more angry shouts, but we stayed put, still hardly breathing, not daring to come out in case they were simply hanging around, trying to outwait us. Finally, since the bus driver did have some kind of a schedule to keep, we decided to risk it, and ever so cautiously and ever so quietly emerged from hiding, relieved to find that they had, indeed, left. Val’s face was white and I’m sure mine was too. I was trembling and feeling weak from the experience. We both realized we had narrowly escaped terrible retribution for our stupid stunt, endangering the lives of the bus passengers. We never told anyone what had happened, nor did we ever sling rocks in that field again, or, for that matter, anywhere in sight of the highway, just in case that same driver should come by and see us. We learned a good lesson the hard way.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 27, 2010 4:48 pm

    >So many good stories from one young boy! I never had any luck with slings, though did get in trouble with slingshots and bb guns. Keep up the postings.Bfren

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