One fine year the nearest big city decides on the Fourth of July that they were going to forego their traditional fireworks display.
So, my little town jumps up and announces that they're going to have a Boom-a-Rama. For $5 per car, anyone who wishes can drive out to the city lake, where the grass has been cut, volunteer fire department and Rescue squad are present in force and - quite coincidentally - the city has set up food and soft drink stands for only about 400% above the going rate.
If you don't think real hard about it, this sounds like a right proper idea. Give everyone a safe place to worship the gods of Big Noises and Fire, with public safety personnel less than a scream away, and the town makes a decent chunk of change.
What actually happened was one of the most concentrated collections of pure distilled dumbass that I've been privileged to see in my four decades on this green earth.
So. Here is the LawDog clan. And we are planning on making sure that on the morning of July 5, there won't be a single evil spirit within about 300 miles of this town. We spent a lot of money on fireworks. And some of them may, or may not, have been supplemented by those of us with a working knowledge of pyro-chemistry.
Night falls, and we load up into three extended cab pickups and an SUV -- when I say clan, I mean everybody -- and we drive out to the lake.
And it is a pretty drive. From the highway there are these huge, beautiful bursts of red and green and gold and every other colour available to modern chemistry sparkling in the air over the lake. Gorgeous.
Then, we actually got out to the lake.
Picture, in your minds eye, an area roughly the size of two high school football fields sans sidelines or endzones, placed side-by-side.
Now, take every redneck in a town of 6000 with pyromaniacal tendencies, and put them in this area. Add a generous dose of the inhabitants of the nearby city of 100,000, who are determined to make up for their city's lack of a firework display with one of their own.
Got that mental picture? Good, now add everyone in the eight surrounding bloody counties who feels slighted by the lack of an official fireworks display anywhere, and has decided to make do "Out at Bugscuffle Lake."
You literally couldn't go six feet without tripping over an artillery tube.
Looked cool as hell from the parking area.
The ladies, being the only of the clan who seemed to be actually, you know, thinking that night, promptly holed up inside the SUV with the children and locked the doors.
Us menfolk, all veterans and no strangers to bigger goat-ropings than this, promptly spat some chaw, hitched up our belts, picked up our two crates of go-bangs and trundled into the fray.
I should, at this point, describe the crates. Somewhere, one of the clan had found two crates about six feet long, maybe two feet or so across and about the same deep. Had rope handles on either end. On hindsight, they might have borne a striking resemblance to cheap coffins, but nobody thought to point that out to me at the time.
Anyhoo, off we trundle through the field, carrying our two ... crates ... of fireworks, mentally rubbing our paws and giggling.
The first problem came when we literally couldn't find a place to set up. Everytime we'd think we found a decent spot, someone else would plonk down an artillery tube less than ten feet away and begin launching explosive stuff willy-and-nilly.
Finally we got located. We unshipped our mortar tubes, and began wiring a sequence pattern for the first barrage, when somebody -- foster brother, brother-in-law, somebody -- yelled, "Fire!"
Chortling indulgently, Chris patted this person on the shoulder and bellowed above the sounds of thousands of pyrotechnics going off, "Patience!"
"Patience, my ass," said worthy replies, pointing, "Fire!"
Yeppers. Waist-high wall of flame roaring our way, gamely pursued by two aging pumper trucks.
I'm told that the sight of seven very large white guys, hoisting two vaguely coffin-shaped crates whilst hauling ass across a field followed by a grass-fire, followed in turn by two pumper trucks, had the ladies in stitches for the rest of the evening.
Anyhoo, once the flames were beaten into submission by the VFD, we set back up, loaded our first pattern and launched it successully into the sky.
Many ooh's and ahh's followed, and we began a hearty round of congratulatory hand-shaking, in the middle of which my foster brother (I think, may have been a cousin) began to frantically slap the lids back onto our crates.
We were somewhat puzzled by this, until someone pointed out a fairly large-ish artillery tube about 15 feet away. Laying on it's side. With a sparking length of cannon fuze disappearing into it's depths.
Which we could see, because it was pointed right at us.
Kith dove left. Kin sprinted right, and foster brother just dropped flat in-between the two crates as the tube launched and the big red ball impacted about six feet short of our cases of low-grade explosive, arced over the top, bounced again about 20 feet further on and detonated in a beautiful burst of red and blue fireballs in the middle of a group of people who seemed to have been setting up about six strings of Black Cats.
At least, I hope that's what they were doing, 'cause that's what happened.
From the mighty cheer that went up, I can surmise that this feat met with approval from a great many people. I can also surmise that more than a few of them had been steadily violating the "No Booze" rule and were multiple sheets to the wind.
Anyhoo, someone, whom I don't know, but apparently unrelated to the survivors of the artillery shell/Black Cat incident, decided that this required a stern response, right smartly.
Counter-battery fire came in the form of two artillery shells and a smoke bomb zeroing in on the culprits.
Passing over our crates in the bloody process, I might add.
This, of course, necessitated answering fire missions of several minutes duration, culminating in an artillery shell bouncing gracefully from roof-to-roof of several innocent vehicles merely watching the display, before detonating spectacularly above a hapless Plymouth Neon and bringing the attention of Johnny Law.
With the appearance of the local PD and the SO and DPS, the combatants were dispersed nicely, allowing kith and kin to emerge from our various positions of cover, and begin to -- once again -- set up our display.
By Thor, we got off two full sets of launches, and I was just getting into the proper spirit of things, when I get punched between the shoulder blades with a flaming pick-axe. Next thing I know, I'm face down in the dirt, can't breath, mouth full of dry grass, and the distinct smell of flaming cotton fabric wafting gently in the non-existant breeze.
Trust me, I know what a burning cotton shirt smells like. Don't ask.
I can also see, from my somewhat skewed perspective, what looks like a high-school-maybe-college-age girl with a mildly perplexed look on her face as she tugs on the sleeve of a slightly older man standing next to her.
He turns, and in the rockets red glare and the gentle illumination of bombs bursting in air, I can lip-read her say to the guy, who has been setting up another four-foot tall, sub-orbital, ballistic missile: "Baby, I think the rocket fell over."
Next thing I know, everyone else is dumping the contents of one crate into the other crate, picking my gently smouldering carcass up, dumping it into the emptied crate, picking up both crates and --once again -- taking off at a dead run across the field.
Now, remember the description of the crate earlier? Now. Imagine you are the distaff members of the clan. Your male relatives - minus one - come running past the SUV you have wisely holed up in. They are carrying - still one relative short - a large crate matching the description given above, with limbs, and bits and parts hanging over the side because I don't bloody well fit, thankyouverymuch, heave the crate and aforementioned bits into the back of a pick-up and drive off at a high rate of speed.
They caught up when the driver stopped the pick-up at the closest cattle tank, and the rest heaved me and my crate into the water, to make sure that no bits were still warmer than they should have been. Kind of put the kibosh to the rest of the night.