About the Author
Chris Lynch (b. 1962), a Boston native, is an award-winning author of several acclaimed young adult novels, including Freewill (2001), which won the Michael L. Printz Honor, and National Book Award finalist Inexcusable (2005). Lynch holds an MA from the writing program at Emerson College, and teaches in the creative writing MFA program at Lesley University. He mentors aspiring writers and continues to work on new literary projects while splitting time between Boston and Scotland.
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Babes in the Woods
The He-Man Women Haters Club
By Chris Lynch
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Chris Lynch
All rights reserved.
Me and the Boys
First off, let's set the record straight: We don't truly hate women. We just don't really know any up close and personal.
And we don't want to know any.
Steven came up with the name. Steven used to be in charge of the He-Man Women Haters Club until the strain of command broke him like a twig and I had to take over. It was the saddest thing you ever saw, Steven falling apart and heaving up his guts right there on TV. We were invited there to show the world just how butch a group of thirteen-year-olds could be, and then, he just lost it.
He used to be one of the greats. He was the inspiration for the whole club (even though I was the actual idea man, but we'll get to the whole brains-brawn thing in a minute). Then he was publicly, sadistically pulled apart by a girl. It was enough to make a He-Man cry, except that we He-Men do not, under any circumstances, cry.
Okay, one of us does. His name is Ling-ling. But we're working on him. Ling's a great big guy who wears military getup and reads The X-Men and Soldier of Fortune, but he's really a toasted marshmallow—singed and crusted on the outside, pure sticky goo on the inside. Like I said, Ling's a project.
He-Man Wolfgang is not a project. Wolfgang is a kid in a wheelchair who has a pretty good attitude about being in a wheelchair, and a pretty bad attitude about everything else. He doesn't obey our phony-baloney rules (we've got millions of them), he doesn't admit to liking any of us, he always seems like he's not more than two insults away from the next fistfight, and it is clear within three minutes of meeting him that nothing about the kid is likely to ever change even if he lives to be thirty or forty years old.
"I'm set, I'm finished, I'm complete," was Wolf's response when I asked him to try and become more of a team player under my leadership than he had been for Steven. "I'm just waiting on some body hair right now, and once that kicks in, I'm all through developing." (Oh ya—body hair is a sort of unofficial club obsession. But again, more on that later.)
By now you might want to know who I am.
Well, I'm going to tell you anyway.
I'm Jerome. I'm the brains of the operation. Now, before we get all excited about that, I should say that being the brains of the He-Man Women Haters Club is sort of like having the best tan in Siberia. We're not going to compete on College Bowl, I can tell you that. On the other hand, the club does specialize in something I, Jerome, have never specialized in.
Whatever the heck that is. These guys are just dripping with it.
But I'm desperate for it. Wolf is hard and mean, Ling is big and military, Steven is—
I can't even say it. I want to be like him, but then, I don't. I've always had trouble with this part.
"No, Steven, I cannot bring myself to say it."
"Sure you can. Jerome, you'll never achieve it if you can't even say it. Say it."
We were on the phone. I was newly elected as leader of the club—a hostile takeover—and I was trying to bring Steven back into the fold. He was making me work for it.
"Is this really necessary, Steven?" I asked. "We all know what you are."
"Fine. Johnny Chesthair. You're a real Johnny Chesthair kind of a guy, all right?"
"All right," he said. "I'll be at the clubhouse tomorrow."
As soon as I hung up, I spun around to my computer keyboard and keyed in one more note on my Rules file: There will only be one Johnny Chesthair at a time. As soon as I, Jerome, become a Johnny Chesthair kind of a guy, I will forbid anyone to call me Johnny Chesthair, thus, retiring the name Johnny Chesthair forever.CHAPTER 2
"Yo, children, c'mere and see something special," Lars called.
Lars is the owner of the auto body shop that houses the immobilized black 1956 Lincoln that is the home office of the He-Man Women Haters Club. Lars is also Steven's uncle, and something of a caveman.
"No, we don't want to see any more of your magazines, Lars," I called.
"It ain't magazines."
"Well, we don't want to see your new metal shears, either."
Wolf, lying on a dolly, slid himself out from under the Lincoln. "You got new metal shears?" he called. "Of course we want to see new metal shears."
"No, I don't have any new shears," Lars called. "I got something much deadlier and more fun."
"Ha," I said, mocking him. "You'll have to do better than that to lure my men away from ..."
Ling was out of the car and practically sprinting toward the office. Wolf, still lying on the dolly, was cruising, backstroking, across the garage just as fast.
Steven walked up to me, grinned in my face, and slapped me harder than necessary on the back.
"Don't you love being in charge?" he asked before joining the group.
They were all still getting used to my quiet leadership style.
"Come on, guys," I whined as I reluctantly followed them. "Come back now. You're supposed to follow me."
When I got to the office I froze right there in the doorway. Lars held it up in the air, and my guys stared up at it like they were worshipping.
"Awesome," Wolf said.
"That is about the coolest thing I ever saw," Steven said.
"Give it to me," Ling said, spooky serious, taking one semi-lunging step toward Lars. Lars looked worried for a second.
"Is that ... a crossbow?" I asked in amazement.
Lars smiled, took a seat behind his desk, and propped the thing up in his lap. As he spoke, he stroked the weapon like it was a big bony dog.
"It is a crossbow," he pronounced.
"I didn't even think they made those anymore. What did you have to do to get it, time-travel back to the Dark Ages? Visit some frozen-in-time country in Europe?"
Lars looked up at the thing as if he were speaking to it instead of to me. "New Hampshire," he chirped.
"Can we play with it?" Steven asked.
"Ya," Wolf said. "Let us shoot a car or a cat or something."
Lars just shook his head, jokingly putting the crossbow behind his back.
Ling followed it everywhere with his eyes. "Give it to me," he said. Even Wolfgang stared at Ling a little nervously now.
"Lars," I said, trying to pull things back to sanity. (I was the leader, after all.) "Can you tell me something: What do you do with a thing like that?"
He shrugged, as if the question were so ridiculous it was a shock to even hear it. "Ya shoot with it, little man."
"Can I shoot something?" Wolf pleaded.
"Give it to me," Ling suggested strongly.
"But myself," Lars said, ignoring everybody but him and his little pointed friend, "I like to fish with it."
"Fish-kabob," Wolf laughed.
"Exactly," Lars said. "I knew you'd understand. You're a pistol, kid."
"I am. But when I grow up, I want to be a shotgun."
"All right, all right, show's over, everybody," I said, trying to herd my troops back out the door. I found myself out there alone.
"Hey there, little guy," the big guy said.
He was, in fact, an awfully big guy. He looked like Lars—tall, blond-white, pale skin, gray eyes and eyelids—only much bulkier. He patted me on the head and walked into the office.
"What are you doing with my weapon?" the guy roared at Lars.
Lars jumped out of his seat, dropping the crossbow in shock.
Like a dog with table scraps, Ling was on all fours as soon as the thing clattered to the cement floor.
"Gimme that, you," the guy said, swiping the crossbow out of Ling's hand. Ling stayed there on the floor, cowering.
"Ling," I called when I saw the tears welling up. I waved my finger at him, no-no, no-no, mustn't do the crying thing.
The big man walked around the desk and promptly threw a solid set of knuckles—thunk—into Lars's bony chest.
Like a fish stranded on the beach, Wolfgang started beating his hands madly across the floor, swimming out of the office on the dolly.
"And you," the man said to Steven, who looked bored, scared, and embarrassed at the same time. "Get over here." But he said it very slowly and drawly. "Git ... oh ... vah ... here."
"What?" Steven pleaded, approaching the guy.
"Hit me," the guy said with a smile.
I had to do something. I was the leader, and the brains.
"Listen, you," I squeaked. "I'm going to call 911."
"Why don't you call 411, kid, get yourself some information."
Steven timidly stepped up close as the man tapped himself on the chin. "Go on, He-Man," he mocked.
"I don't want to hit you, Dad," Steven said. "Last time I was in a splint for three weeks." Dad. Dad?
"Gunnar," Lars cut in, punching his brother in the back with no visible effect. "Leave the boy alone."
Gunnar laughed, then slapped his boy across the face in a playful way. Steven staggered back. Myself, I would have gone down for an eight-count.
"So, did he tell you?" he asked.
"Tell us what?" I wanted to know.
"Lars, bonehead, you didn't tell 'em yet?"
"I was getting to it."
"Didn't tell us what, Dad?" Steven asked.
"We decided to take you guys along on the Trip."
"Uh-oh," Steven said.
"What?" I asked, looking to Steven, then to Lars, then to Gunnar. Then to Ling, who finally sprang to his feet.
"The Trip," Lars said.
"The Trip," Gunnar said.
"The Trip," Ling said. "When do we go? What should I bring? What are you going to let me do? And does that have anything to do with it?" He pointed at the crossbow.
"What, what, what?" I asked, around and around. Wolf caught wind of all this and wheeled himself back into the picture.
"Even you can come," Gunnar said to him, sounding generous as Father Christmas about it.
"Hot dog!" Wolf howled, even though he, like Ling, had no idea where we were going.
"Whoa, whoa, there," Gunnar said. "We gotta do this on the up-and-up. You all have to check with your parents first."
"Where are we going?" I demanded.
"Who's the wet blanket?" Gunnar asked.
"He's our leader," Steven moaned.
"Boy," Gunnar cracked, "do you boys ever need this trip."
"My parents are no problem," Wolf announced. "I killed them both in their sleep. When I was six years old. With a crossbow."
There was a brief pause in the conversation.
"Great then," Gunnar responded. "So you've handled one of these before."
Wolf laughed. He loved to be topped.
"So, the cripple kid's in ..."
"I'm in too," Ling said.
"Don't you need to check ..."
"It'll be fine," Ling said.
"Where are we going?" I was now speaking strictly to the walls.
"What about you Junior?" Gunnar said to his son.
"I don't know, let me check: Dad, can I go?"
"Ummmmm ... okay. But only if your mother says no."
Lars and his brother broke into a hearty laugh over that one.
"Well then, I guess I can go," Steven said.
As the meeting began breaking up, my guys headed back to the Lincoln. I stood there in the doorway. Gunnar had finally allowed his brother to handle the precious crossbow.
"Will somebody please tell me where we're supposed to be going?"
Lars wheeled around, pointed the arrow's sharp steel tip at my blunt little chest.
"We're going to the Man's World. Where a man can be a man. No work, no women, no toilets."
I was sort of hoping there was more to the Man's World than that.
"Will we be bringing that along?" I asked, pointing to the crossbow.
"This?" he snorted. "This little thing's for play. Place we're bringin' ya requires serious implements of destruction."CHAPTER 3
You'd think that just once they could do a single simple thing you expect them to.
Not only did my father not tell me I couldn't go, he told me I had to go.
And Mom? Certainly my dear mother wouldn't want me up there exposed to the elements and the elephants and whatever else was lurking at night in the unexplored primeval jungles of Maine.
"It's okay with me if it's okay with your father."
Never ask your mother anything while she's busy buying flatware off of QVC.
"Fine," I huffed, stomping up to my room. I muttered on as I jammed fifteen pairs of underwear into my duffel bag. "Go ahead and cry your eyeballs out when some moose chews me to pieces."
"Moose don't eat meat," Dad said calmly, watching with great amusement from my bedroom door.
"Well," I said. "You're so chummy with the moose, why don't you go instead."
"I'm already a man," he cracked. "It's your turn. And you might want to pack at least one pair of pants there, Jerome. Maine can be chilly."
When we were all assembled at the clubhouse at the appointed time, Lars and Gunnar conducted inspection to see how well prepared we were. When they got to my bag, they took a long time examining it.
They were counting. I saw Gunnar using his fingers.
"Fifteen?" he asked.
"Fifteen pairs of shorts?" Wolf guffawed. "Jerome, buddy, you got a squirt problem?"
"See that, I knew there was something in his closet," Steven said. "I move to impeach. Who's with me?"
Steven was, shall we say, a wee bit interested in getting his job back as president of the club.
"Give it up, Steve-o," Wolf said. "We don't care if he wears a diaper. At least a girl didn't make Jerome heave-ho on television for the whole world to see. You're lucky we even let you be in the club."
"Ah, I don't wear diapers, thank you," I said, figuring it was important, as boss, to establish that.
"It wasn't Mon—It wasn't the girl that made me sick," Steven answered, still unable to even say her name. "It was something I ate before the show. The host, Wendy Wightman—a woman—she poisoned my food ... to weaken me, ya, that's it. You should be thanking me. I took the hit for all of us."
"Really, well, she weakened you up pretty good there, I'd say, boy. The point, anyhow, is you don't have the votes to be president again. We voted Jerome in, and he's staying in."
I was warmed by Wolfgang's support. "Thanks, Wolf."
He smiled. "I made ya, I can break ya" was Wolf's version of "you're welcome."
Inspection wound up with an exploration of Ling's knapsack, which included no change of clothes, five pounds of comic books and military-supply catalogues ... and a hatchet.
Lars held up the hatchet. "Nice," he said, running his thumb along the sharpened edge. "Plan to kill anybody with this?"
Ling took the hatchet back. "People? No."
"Good," Gunnar said, clapping his hands together loudly. "Then we're off."
Would it have somehow compromised our manliness if Gunnar's Ford Bronco had had heat? Would I have been less of a leader if I hadn't absorbed Steven's relentless chattering in my ear over the entire four-hour ride?
Apparently, the answer to both questions was yes.
"Ever seen one up close, Jerome?" Steven asked as we bounced around the truck's rear, uncarpeted, refrigerated section. "A bull moose is like a backhoe with antlers. Nostrils like this." He made two huge circles with his fingers, as if he were holding a large sub roll in each hand. "When the sucker breathes, sounds like a steam engine. If he runs at you, you're gonna wish you had diapers on."
I was close to wishing it already.
"You're just trying to scare me, Steven," I said.
"Correct. And it's working, isn't it?"
"Mmmm ... maybe," I answered. "But it doesn't matter, because I'm the leader and you're not."
"Okay, Jerome," Steven whispered. "This is going to be one long weekend for you ... fearless leader."
"Have I told you about the black bears yet?"
I cranked down the rear window to get some air. Sometimes thirty degrees isn't as cold as you'd think.
"Blllllack bearrrrrrs," he said as I hung out the window.
"Mmmmmmonicaaaa," I said right back.
By the time I turned to see him, he was sitting politely, quietly, looking almost as whipped as I felt.
"When do I get to drive?" Wolf asked.
The brothers Lundquist—in the front seat, sharing their coffee out of a silver flask—ignored him.
"Nobody listens to me," Wolf said, nudging Ling in the ribs. Ling didn't look up, just continued reading The Sportsman's Guide with his hatchet in his lap.
Real men eat in diners.
We stopped somewhere off of U.S. Route 1, halfway to where we were going, and only seven or eight twists off the main road. Gunnar drove it like it was where he stopped for breakfast on his way to work every day. It was actually almost beautiful, in its own Li'l Abner kind of way. Bright shiny polished stainless steel, the whole place was no bigger than a tractor trailer, and shaped like a hot dog. There were small neon signs in the windows and on the roof that just said EAT, as if we were going to pull in, sit down, and then not know what to do with ourselves once we got there.
There were eight men in there already, all of them hunched over at the counter, and all of them wearing hats. The ones with the plaid, ear-flap hunter hats were obviously the local brainy guys. You could tell that right off because the others, with the baseball caps, had their brims all covered in ketchup from swooping too low into the luncheon specials.
But who could blame them?
"Venison croquettes for me," Wolfgang crowed. "And a cup of moose-face chowder."
Ling looked to the brothers. "What is their water source here?"
"Artesian well," Lars answered.
"I'll have an apple and a glass of water. No ice."
"Party on, Ling-Ling," Steven said. "Myself, I'm having the bison balls. Care to join me, Jerome?"
I could not respond. I mean, physically, I couldn't speak, even if a response had been necessary. Which it certainly shouldn't have been. I pointed to the spot on the menu where the safe-looking haddock special was.
Excerpted from Babes in the Woods by Chris Lynch. Copyright © 1997 Chris Lynch. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Contents1 Me and the Boys,
2 Man's World,
3 Jerk Chicken,
4 If and When,
5 I'm Game,
6 Big Shots,
8 Lundquist Lodge,
9 Power Play,
10 Party till You Drop,
11 The Posse,
12 The Code,
A Biography of Chris Lynch,
Preview: Scratch and the Sniffs,