Jake and Emmet flipped over rocks and logs in the woods, watching the spiders scatter and worms recede. Jake wheedled Emmet to let him ride his new Kawasaki KX 250F dirt bike, but Emmet was stubborn.
“What if I just took it around the block?” asked Jake.
“It’s not street legal.”
“You’re lucky. No way I’ll get one for my birthday.” Jake pulled up a piece of cardboard, and several crickets sprang away, the gross looking orangey ones. “One more year and your a teenager.”
“Still seems a long way off.” Emmet uncovered a baby garter snake and pinned it lightly with his shoe, careful not to hurt it. The snake opened its mouth and wagged its head. “Whoa. This one’s learning early.” Jake crouched next to him as Emmet bent over and grabbed its neck, gripping it in his fist.
“I’m not ready to grow up,” said Jake. He pet the snake on the head, its jaws now closed.
“What are you talking about?” asked Emmet. “You’re the most grown up person I know.”
“Not really. Would a grown-up go snake hunting just for kicks?” Jake turned over a log.
“If they had a choice, I bet they would.”
Jake hitched his mouth. They reached a piece of plywood they’d scarfed from a dumpster to build their tree houses, but it had split through the middle so they’d discarded it here. It often hid the mother load of garter snakes.
“Ready?” asked Emmet.
Emmet twisted his wrist so the baby snake faced him. “Are you ready?” He replied for the reptile in falsetto. “Let’s do it, doods.”
They each lifted a corner, Emmet with his free hand, and pulled it up, over their heads, then pushed back, flipping it over. Two garter snakes, a medium and a large. Jake went for the big one and rested his sneaker close to its head. It turned and struck at his jeans. He picked up a stick and worked it a little, then pinned it to the ground so he could pick it up behind the neck. He held it firmly in his fist until it calmed down, then he let his sneaker off and picked it up. It wrapped itself around his forearm, about a foot of tail dangling.
“She’s nice,” said Emmet. He’d caught the medium one and held it in front of the baby to introduce them.
Cool moisture ran down Jake’s forearm, followed by the rank smell of snake musk. “Shit. I didn’t calm him long enough.”
“Yeah. I’ll really miss that smell when we’re adults,” said Emmet.
“What if we pushed your bike to Grasshopper Farm? Would you let me ride it around there?”
“Uh-uh,” said Emmet.
When they tired of playing with the snakes, they let them go and checked a non-lethal trap that Jake’s father had helped him design and build. The bait was gone and the trap sprung, but no critter.
“What keeps getting it?” asked Emmet.
“It’s gotta be something just big enough its rump keeps it from closing. Maybe an opossum. I’ll have to make the next one longer.” Jake picked it up to take it back to his house. “I’m kind of freaked out about adulthood,” he said. “On the one hand it’s this strange, unknown thing that seems far, far away, but on the other it feels like a looming boogieman about to strangle the life out of me.”
They stopped by a large puddle swirling with tadpoles in Jake’s back yard.
“I hope we keep doing stuff like this when we’re older,” said Emmet. “It’s hard to imagine life without our daily excursions.”
“But that’s what I mean,” said Jake. He set the trap down in the garage and handed Emmet a pickle jar, taking one for himself. “My brother Mason used to love comic books. They were his life. Now he’s eighteen, and he’s lost all interest. How can you just lose interest in Spiderman?”
“My dad still likes Spiderman,” said Emmet. They went back to the puddle and dipped the jars to catch tadpoles. Emmet held his up to the sun, five of them wriggling around inside.
“What if I let you borrow my Wrist-Rocket? Then would you let me ride your motorcycle?” Jake scored three tadpoles. “I promise I won’t dump it.”
“Look, Jake, it’s just too new. I’m too worried about it to let other people ride. Plus, I’m gonna be a little possessive for a while.”
“Come on,” Jake set his jar in the shade of the deck and they started walking towards Emmet’s house. “My Wrist-Rocket. For a week. You love that thing.”
Emmet scrunched his face and nodded, then shook his head. “Nope.”
“Just up the alley and back.”
“Even just in my driveway, my dad would still kill me.”
“Mine would kill me if he knew I let you have my Wrist-Rocket,” said Jake.
For about an hour in Emmet’s back yard they shot at wasps with rubber band guns.
“Your parents should put a swing set back here for Mags and Patty,” said Jake. “Or a sandbox.”
“Nah. We don’t like to interfere with nature.”
They picked up the stray rubber bands and took them into Emmet’s garage. Jake stared at Emmet’s Kawasaki KX 250F with a half grin. “What I’d give.”
Emmet handed Jake the helmet.
“Are you serious?” asked Jake.
Emmet shrugged. “You’re only young once.”