October 31, 2012

Buffalo Bayou

When I was a kid growing up in Houston, my neighborhood backed up to Buffalo Bayou. Now, if you're in the south, bayou is pretty much a fancy way of saying river or creek. Buffalo Bayou's pretty huge in places but behind my neighborhood, it really only rated creek status. Unless a hurricane or thunderstorm blew through. Then all bets were off.

In the fall - not the summer since it was too overgrown - the neighborhood kids who were brave enough would trek through the woods to the bayou and play. I say brave because it really was a hike through dense woods, the bayou itself was creepy, and there were rumors that people lived there. None of those things deterred any of us who went.

We'd inevitably play some variation of war, whether it was cops and robbers, cowboys and indians, or humans versus aliens. Those of us without toy guns - my parents never did cave on that one - fashioned guns out of sticks. We built forts out of old driftwood and fallen trees. We played until we were exhausted or someone scraped themselves up too badly, or fallen in the bayou and gotten all wet. And on one of those occasions, when my friend Jimmy sipped and earned himself both a scrape and wet jeans, we left something behind. A brand new BB gun.

It was dusk when we made it home. We went our separate ways, got cleaned up, changed, ate dinner, then made good on our plan to meet up after dinner and retrieve the BB gun despite the darkness. Only Bill wasn't able to convince his parents to let him go back out. But then his parents were always unreasonably strict.

We trekked back through the woods moving much slower than we had in the daylight. We knew that the bayou carved small cliffs out of the land and none of us wanted to walk back home wet and cold. Or worse, with a broken ankle. As we neared where we assumed we'd left the gun, we saw lights. Small, square lights. Like headlights. We didn't think we'd gone too far, ended up within sight of a road or another part of the neighborhood. And we hadn't. As we approached, quietly, we saw that the piles of fallen trees, driftwood and other flotsam we'd seen during the day were makeshift houses with fires burning inside. The occasional silhouette of a person was visible. And the more we looked, the more flickering lights we saw.

We froze, not knowing what to do, until the light from one of the structures was reflected against something tall and metallic. Jimmy's gun. Thirty feet away, it was leaning against a tree. We each took slow steps forward, deciding to go together. We reached the gun and turned to retreat when we heard a thud from behind. Instinctively, reflexively, we turned. And there we saw a strange, dirty-faced man poke his head out of his camp. He said, with a cackle,

"Happy Halloween!"

Posted by Chris at October 31, 2012 7:56 AM

Every year I get almost to the end of the story before I remember that it's Halloween - you got me again!

Posted by: akofaolain at October 31, 2012 9:43 AM

So, I knew this was the Halloween post and all, but I loved being reminded about Buffalo Bayou. Ten years in Houston and I have my memories too.

Posted by: Heather at November 1, 2012 10:07 AM