It was the Memorial Day weekend of 8th grade, and the second day of my three day adventure to my friend’s “camp” (which was really just his summer home on the river in Pennsylvania). We had just finished melting some lead bullets that his grandpa gave and were walking back to the garage to see what else we could mess around with.

“Dude, why you walkin’ funny?” Jacob asked.

“I don’t know… My foot’s been hurting when I run on it at track, and I can’t really push off real good for pole vault. Don’t tell my mom – she’ll make me go to the doctor and I’ll have to stop running.”

He nodded knowingly, wisely, and told me in a sagely voice “Just come with me and we’ll get you fixed right up” beckoning onward.

We got the kayaks out of the garage for some reason. Paddling across the river, I wondered why we couldn’t fix it where we were before.

“Seriously, why do we need to go all the way across the river? What’s over there that’s not over here?” I asked.

Shaking his head at my apparent naivety, he simply appealed to my sense of empathy, “just wait and see. You’d understand if you were in my position.”

So I waited until we were across the river. Then I waited until we dragged the kayaks high enough on the steep, brushy bank to be safe from the current. Then I waited until we had walked half a mile on an old, out-of-use rail bed until I caved and told him again, “There’s nothing here Jake. You had more to work with back at the garage.”

“I know that, punk! But you’ll see. Look, here’s something I could use!” He fended off my arguments and shut me up quickly by picking up a foot-long rusting railroad spike. “Do you wanna do it here or do you wanna wait and see where I’m taking you?”

“…I’ll wait…”

“Good. ‘Cause trust me you will be amazed! And I can fix your foot up there but you gotta do everything I say okay?”

“I guess…” I answered, seeing my choices as continuing or having an emergency amputation done by an amateur surgeon using rusty tools/weapons.

So we trekked on. After another half mile or so we came to an old bridge that the rail line used before it went out of business.  The bridge was rusted to a dull red color, and all remnants of the track or wooden planking were gone, leaving just two parallel I-beams, each about a foot and a half wide.

“Are we gonna cross that…?” I asked tentatively, knowing the answer in my gut.

“Of course! How else was I gonna fix your foot?” Jacob replied, as if it was the most obvious answer in the world.

So we began inching across, arms spread wide for balance, Nikes gripping the cold, rough iron. At the exact center, Jacob told me to stop.

“We’re here now. Ok bring your foot closer please.”

I inched my left foot towards him, hoping a sudden gust of wind wouldn’t cause me to fall the forty feet to the waiting river. I closed my eyes and turned the other way, until I realized closing my eyes made it harder to keep my balance. Then Jacob started dancing and chanting and the real terror started. Clearly, someone who could dance around and chant in some unintelligible language while balancing on a tiny bridge forty feet in the air was possessed by evil demons.

“Jacob?” I asked.

“Aywai shakalaka bingbang – Yeah?” He broke off his chant, answering me in his normal voice while freezing in the middle of his weird dance.

“What are you doing…?”

“I’m healing your foot duh.”

“…That’s not gonna work Jake.”

“Oh then I’ll just fix it the easy way. You probably slipped a disk.” He explained in a knowing voice.

“…Isn’t that your back…?” I began to wonder out loud before he abruptly stomped down as hard as he could with his heel directly at the point where my foot hurt.

“YOOOOOWWWW!” I screamed, grabbing my now-more-injured foot and hopping up and down. Then I remembered where I was and instantly dropped as close to the bridge as possible, hugging it like a favorite teddy bear.

“See? All better.”

“No it’s not! Are you stupid? You coulda killed me!” I yelled angrily.

“Well… does it still hurt?” He asked, a little hopefully.

I rolled my eyes. “Yes Einstein, stomping on my hurt foot made it hurt worse. My dog coulda figured that one out.”  It was hard to sound condescending while clutching a rusty I-beam for dear life and looking 5 feet up to the subject of my condescension.

“Oh. Well then. Plan B time.” He pulled the rusty railroad spike out of his pocket where it hung out like the handle of a sword. I paled. “No stupid, I’m not gonna stab your foot. You just have to leave a message for the spirits from me. We’re buddies; they’ll fix it for me.” He explained, having gained back some of his gung-ho attitude.

“What? Message for the – what?” I stuttered, not comprehending any of it.

“Here, take this spike, hang from one hand right in the middle there, and scratch the note in the rust on the side of the beam. Trust me, it’ll work this time.”

Unsure, I grasped the spike and crawled to the indicated spot. “If I die, tell my brother he can’t have my room.”

“You’re so dramatic, calm down. Just hang from one hand right in the middle here and scratch it in with the other. I’ll tell you what to say.” He explained

Reluctantly complying, I grabbed the lip of the beam and lowered myself. “I’m ready.”

“Ok, write this: Dear all-powerful spirits, please fix my friend’s foot. He really is an okay guy. Sincerely, Jacob Lewis.”

“Wow, you really are on friendly terms with these spirit things.” I said, my voice dripping with sarcasm. “Now do you think you could get them to pull me back up?”

“What? Oh crap.”

“’Oh crap’? Don’t say ‘Oh crap!’ I’m hanging here above certain death! You can’t tell me ‘Oh crap!’ Just get me up!” I shouted, scared now.

“Hang on, I’ll pull you up.” He grabbed my wrist and started pulling. I couldn’t believe my life was in the hands of a crazy lunatic who talked to imaginary spirits.  Once up, I scrambled back to the trail and kissed the ground.

“Drama queen…” I heard Jake mutter as he walked by.

So we began the journey home. I limped the whole way. From that day on I always refused to go along with Jacob’s plans until he spelled them out to me ahead of time. I did, however, let him sign my cast, right above the second metatarsal where my foot was broken, not anywhere near a disk.