The Adventures of A&J is a passion project I’ve decided to take on over the following year.
Reedsy does a contest and group of weekly creative writing prompts.
I will be choosing one of their prompts and creating an ongoing comedy series based on the following characters Arnold and Jeremy.
Episode One is based off the Reedsy Prompt:
“Write a story about a character who finds guidance in an unlikely place.”
The day I woke up in a darkened circus tent, wearing a bright yellow clown costume and a fluffy red wig, is the day I realized that maybe Jeremy and I’s familial feud had to end soon. I certainly learned a valuable life lesson back then. That’s for sure!
My story begins in 1966, with a dwarf standing over me, threatening to douse me with a bucket of water if I didn’t wake up soon. Fortunately for me, I began to stir.
“You okay?” he asked.
I rubbed at my eyes, feeling the stabbing pain throbbing just above my temples.
“Um, yeah, I think so… Oh no!” I tried to sit up too quickly, and my head felt like it might just implode on itself from the deep, silent thrumming that pounded in every brain cell.
“You sure you’re okay, kid?” He asked again.
“Yeah, I’m sorry. I’ll just get leaving. I mean, I’ll go here.” Gods, why were words so hard? Oh yeah, twenty shots of Smirnoff would do that to a person, I suppose.
I stood up slowly, feeling like I might be sick. It was probably the worst hangover to date. Why did I do this to myself? When would this game with Jeremy ever end?
“Jeez, what in the hell was y’all thinking? Y’all damn lucky that Big Ben didn’t find y’all sacked out here. Probably thinkin’ y’all were Gerald, all drunk and partied out again. Otherwise, he woulda called the cops for sure!”
“Yeah, thanks,” I mumbled, trying to hurry off and get as far away from this circus as possible. Considering I was in a circus tent and dressed like a clown, I had to question if I had any dignity left.
The answer was no. I resolved right then and there that this would end. This would be the last time.
But would it be? No, of course not.
Why did I do this to myself?
And here is when we cue the sage words of a wise old man. “Why does a dog lick its balls? Because it can…”
Why did Jeremy and I have this long-standing feud to see who could outdrink, out-shame, and out-bet each other? Because we could.
Jeremy was my cousin, and we had grown up only one block away from each other.
Damn, I think it might have started in kindergarten, actually. We were on the playground digging in the dirt as boys do. He found a worm and plucked it gingerly from the rain-leaden dirt.
“Hey Arnold, I dare you to eat this worm!” He laughed at me.
The other boys were watching with smirks on their faces. Oh, no. I inwardly cringed even at the age of five. If I ate the worm, I’d be a loser for eating a slimy. If I didn’t eat the worm, I’d look like a puss. I thought about it momentarily, then said, “I’ll eat it if you pull down Tricia’s skirts!”
“Fine, eat the worm!” He didn’t even consider the consequences, as I hoped he would.
I don’t know why I picked poor Tricia as a target. Before you judge me for being some perv in the making, I wasn’t. I was just a stupid kid who looked up, and poor Tricia was the first girl in sight. Why her skirts? I don’t know. I just needed to think quickly. I was only five, after all.
In the moment, it seemed like a worthy challenge equivalent to taking on worm delicacies among the barely literate at Orma Terre Elementary.
“Okay, I’ll eat it.” So I took the worm from Jeremy, closed my eyes, and slurped it down. I swallowed hard but could have sworn I felt it trying to swim back up my throat.
“Argh…” I moaned.
The boys were all whooping and hollering. “Yeah, Arnold! – You go! Do it!”
Then, I must have turned green or some other unearthly color unknown to humanity. Because at this point, all the boys went silent and took a collective step back.
That was it. I lost it. Puked all over myself. In less than one and a half seconds, I went from being the coolest kid on the playground to being a wuss who just wasn’t tough enough to hold down my worm.
All of them roared with laughter. Then, to my surprise, they turned on Jeremy.
“Go on! Go pull down Tricia’s pants. You said you would!”
I watched my cousin puff out his chest and grin. “Alright, then.”
He took off at top speed, ran up behind poor Tricia, and pulled her skirt down in a quick flash. Poor kid tripped and fell before she could even see who did it. Jeremy ran off faster than Mighty Mouse on steroids, and poor Tricia was left crying in the dirt.
Had it been any other kid, they would have been nailed to an upside-down cross and left to the crows for eye-pecking. That certainly would have been my fate.
But no, Jeremy didn’t even get caught. I swear, I think if Larry the Leprechaun and Lady Luck had a one-night stand, their bastard love child would have been named Jeremy!
They questioned Tricia, and she didn’t know who did it. Then they interviewed all of us, and we weren’t talking. If any of us ratted the others out, it was a betrayal worse than Judas himself. If you’re shocked and horrified that I could compare my cousin to sweet baby Jesus, well, you haven’t even heard the best of it yet.
It was always like this with Jeremy. But somehow, it did get back to my teacher that I had eaten a worm, and then eventually back to my parents. I didn’t get into trouble per se, but it was humiliating to be questioned by your parents as they donned expressions as if you had just reached deep inside your pants and flung your feces at them. They expected more respectable behavior from their son.
Jeremy was one of those ‘only kid’ types. Perfectly-parted, angel blond hair. Perfect smile; never needing braces. Perfect grades and a perfect intelligence for masking his mischievous master schemes. Yeah, one of those kids. Like I said, a real miracle worker.
If Aunt Rose hadn’t been the one changing his diapers when he was a baby, she would have assuredly been convinced her perfect angel shitted gold nuggets.
I really think Jeremy had this weird co-dependency of watching me end up heels over head more often than not. But then again, why do I keep trying to outdo him in these wild and outlandish bets when I rarely get the upper hand?
Sorry, I digress. Where was I?
After the circus clown incident, I’d like to say I held to my promise of no more outlandish betting, but that was not the case. We were both nineteen in our freshman year of college. Don’t ask me why we ended up at the same college. It just ‘worked out that way’. And if you believe that unicorns fart rainbows, you can believe that as well.
So, there we were. It was the big end-of-season football bonfire. Of course, we both attended. We were being typical 19-year-old boys, playing flag football on the beach with all our classmates.
I was thrown the ball, fumbled it, and toppled right onto her – Marian Weatherford. I didn’t know that was her name then, but you know how that saying goes; love at first sight. It was for me. However, judging by the look on her face, when I managed to scramble off of her, it was as if a swarm of killer bees trying to invade her every orifice might have been more pleasant.
“Jesus, Arnold, you still haven’t outgrown your clumsy phase, have you?” Jeremy stood over us and shook his head in a mocking reprimand. “Hey, are you alright?” He shifted his focus to the beautiful face of Marian.
“Don’t be too sore.” He flashed her another award-winning anchorman grin. “He really can’t help it, ya know.”
I rolled my eyes and hefted myself up from the sand as he extended a hand to her. “Let me help you up.” Then he began to chivalrously dust sand from her capris and cardigan sweater.
She smiled sweetly at him. “Thanks.”
“I’m sorry about that,” I said meekly, and I honestly was ashamed of my clumsiness.
She must have noted this and surprised me when she beamed back a radiant smile and said, “I’m fine. Are you okay?”
“I think I lost my glasses.” I realized they had been knocked off my face, and I bent down to look for them at the same time she did. As we did so, our heads knocked, and we both tried to apologize. It was mutual social awkwardness with the most beautiful girl I had ever laid eyes on. This was utterly surreal.
“Oh geez, Arnold, they’re right here!” Jeremey bent down just to the left of where we were and picked them up, handing them to me with gruff exasperation.
After that, the night progressed as “normal.” The Jeremy and Arnold “normal.” Back to our old ‘cat and mouse-mouse and cheese-mouse trap-mouse squished’ game. We’d had a few beers, and both of us were completely inept at most all things and entirely invincible to everything.
So it began. It was a full moon, cloudless night, and even without the eerie illumination of the bonfire, it was strangely bright.
“Hey Arnold, you see that dingy out there?” Jeremy asked.
I squinted and could easily see it despite my much-needed update on my eyeglass script. I was very nearsighted. “Yeah, I see it.”
“I bet you to down two more beers and swim out there and back in less than 20 minutes!”
I glanced at Marian, who had been close to us all night, quiet, grinning shyly, and waiting to see which man-child could win her over, I suppose. Or maybe she just couldn’t resist two egotistical idiots showering her with more attention than The Beatles get from their hormone-frenzied fans? Not sure.
Now you have to understand; my instant thought was, “What the fuck Arnold. Jeremy will beat you. He’s center linebacker for the team.”
Although if that was the thought running through my head, I didn’t listen to reason. Instead, I responded, “C’mon chicken, I was always the better swimmer than you!”
You idiot, Arnold. No, you aren’t. You’re a flippin’ moron!
Then I glanced at Marian, who was radiating astonishment at me. Or thinking back, it was more likely just face flush from too much alcohol.
I decided at that moment I had to do it to impress her, and that was that. Either way, it’s so much easier to believe your own BS when you’re three sheets to the wind and in love with a woman you only met five minutes ago.
So we began to undress down to our skivvies, and Marian, being the obvious ‘good girl,’ blushed and pretended not to want to look, but did anyway. I quickly realized through the ‘liquid logic’ that this was such a lame idea. Jeremy looked so much better than I; stripped down half-bare.
We made our way down to the edge of the shore. By this time, a small crowd was gathering. Our chums already knew what was a foot and stood around, punching each other in the shoulder and chuckling knowingly.
‘Knowingly,’ meaning they were all well aware of our tom-foolery and were excited to see me be humiliated yet again.
One of our buddies counted as we stood stupidly and vulnerable at the break of the waves.
“On the count of three! One! Two! Three! Go!”
We both ran headlong into the surf, screaming wildly at the shock of the cold. As soon as Jeremy was thigh-deep, he dove gracefully forward and began to swim with all the agility of a master athlete. I attempted to copy him and instead gulped and choked on a mouthful of salt water. Spitting it out and trying to recover, I began to swim. Jeremy was already a good 3 yards ahead of me.
I willed my arms and legs to move faster, feeling much more sober than I did at the shore’s edge. The ‘hells freezeth over water’ did a master job there. I pumped my arms and legs wildly. Swimming in the ocean was much more complicated than laps in a gym pool. There was the constant pushing of the surf and waves hitting you in the face and the current taunting and pulling you back. I looked up, and Jeremy was now four yards ahead of me.
“Damn it, Arnold, you are such a grade-A idiot. I can’t do this. No! You can do this! Swim harder and faster. Go, go, go.” I tried to coach myself onward despite the hypothermia that was likely setting in.
I could hear the crowd’s whooping and hollering, getting fainter the faster I swam. The more my muscles ached, the more I willed myself to keep going.
“No pain, no gain. No pain, no gain.” I kept repeating the mantra over and over to force myself onward.
Then, something grabbed my attention. The crowd’s din of cheering seemed to change. It was different. I slowed a bit and strained my ears. They were screaming our names but differently. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, just that the energy of their rally had changed somehow. I instinctively looked up to check on Jeremy’s position, just in time to see him floundering and struggling.
My heart and stomach collided as I picked up speed. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. As I pushed myself to swim towards Jeremy, I realized why he faltered. It was as if invisible hands were pulling at me, or mini tornadoes of water around my ankles threatened to pull me to the icy depths below.
I was completely sober now, and I instantly knew what this was. There had been a whole week’s study on this in my marine biology class. An undercurrent, a rip tide, would pull us down if I didn’t do something.
I was sucked under, and I momentarily panicked, thinking, “I’m going to die.” Then, for all the crazy hair-brained challenges I had gone through and survived with Jeremy, I instantly countered that thought with, “No, you aren’t going to die, Arnold. You can survive this!”
My lungs began to burn. I needed to get to the surface.
Suddenly, I remembered. Swim outward parallel to the shore. I began kicking wildly in the direction I was sure was the right way. I swam about twenty feet and pulled hard to make it upward and right. Steadily, I swam right, and right, and then finally, just when I thought my lungs might explode – sweet release. I felt the hand of the devil let go, and I bobbed to the surface, sputtering and coughing as I tread water to stay afloat.
Suddenly, I remembered Jeremy. I whipped my head this way and that. I began to swim diagonally toward where I had last seen him. I screamed his name, swimming frantically this way and that. And then another miraculous break. I saw him bobbing in the water face down, only twenty feet away from me.
I swam to him and scooped my arm around his chest. I was half swimming and half pulling him to shore when some of our buddies met me a third of the way there. One of the bigger guys took over. They shifted Jeremy from me and returned him to the shore before I could. Another of our classmates helped me make sure I made it in safe.
When I crawled onto the sand, Jeremy was on his back, unconscious and looking pale. One of the boys was hovering over my cousin’s limp body, administering CPR. Another guy took off like a bat out of hell down the shore, screaming frantically for someone, anyone, to call an ambulance.
I lay there thinking I need to do something. I looked over, and Marian was looking at Jeremy and crying. The whole football team, their girlfriends, and half the school were pale and frantic. An unspoken silence permeated the crowd, willing Jeremy back to life.
Well, not to worry. He didn’t die. Somewhere deep in Jeremy’s mystical genetics recesses, his luck gene kicked back in, and he was coughing and puking on the sand. Everyone exhaled a simultaneous breath of relief.
I think I must have fainted then because the next thing I knew, I had woken up on the couch of one of my classmates’ house, and of all people, Marian was sitting beside me in an armchair!
When I came to, I had a moment of amnesia, and then it came back to me in a rush. I sat up, and my head was again doing that black-hold implosion thing it did when I’d drank too much.
“He’s fine. At the hospital, but going to live – because of you.” She smiled sweetly at me.
I shook my head. The memory of that whole night was still so vivid. Some memories, even after 40 years, could be that way.
I looked down at my little 8-year-old grandson, rapt with attention, hanging on every word of his grandfather’s story.
“And that, little Chase, is why you don’t drink and swim! And why you don’t make foolish life-threatening bets!” I shook my pointer finger and added with a hint of mischief, “And that is also how you meet and fall in love with your future wife.”