The day Jody broke her ankle, we’d walked the King Kong fence twice each, but only one side. Our legs already ached, but we’d wanted those shorter runs to prepare for the real challenge.
“Let’s do both sides now,” said Jody at last, wiping a sweaty brow with her sleeve. Her freckles stood out like brown glitter and her homely face shone.
“Ok!” I said. “You go first.” I knew at the time that it should have been me, as the more athletic one, but my politeness got in the way. I would soon regret it.
Jody’s family boasted the highest log fence in Camp. It rose six feet high opposite my own home. If we sat on the wooden stairs at my u-shaped house, we saw only that massive log fence in front of Jody’s place. A dirt road separated the two houses, but nothing travelled on that except cats, bikes, or kids. Once a month, Marcel’s one-ton truck rumbled by, delivering crated groceries shipped up by steamer from Vancouver.
The year was 1956. We were eight, and we loved to scramble up slats in the gate to the top of the first log and then wobble along, stepping from one perch to the next with arms outstretched, like high-wire performers.
Composed of D-logs — whole logs cut flat on one side but still round on the other– the fence loomed in our eyes like the fortress in the movie King Kong. It stood impenetrable, strong. All the kids wanted to climb it, walk it, master it. It called to us in our dreams and at school. That fence tested the outer limits of our physicality. Gollum’s ring held no greater temptation; that fence begged us to walk it, and walk it we did, despite dangers or warnings.
Now, flushed with excitement, Jody stuck a foot in the lower gate hinge and hoisted herself up the gate slats once more. I held my breath and hoped for the best. Could we make it around two sides without falling off? Adrenalin pumped through us; we always started with the side bordering the dirt road, then moved on to the second stretch, which faced a windowless side of Jody’s house. That way, we couldn’t be spotted by Jody’s mother.
She had reached the third log when the sun split the clouds to brighten the way. I craned my neck, walking nervously below, skirting the large sandbox built for the Yaroslavs’ four kids, Jody’s two sisters and a brother. Jody moved slowly as I watched, carefully balancing her small frame. Now a wobble on the fourth log, but she righted herself, pausing until her equilibrium returned. Only ten more steps to go. She made it to five, then six, then wobbled on seven. She paused again. Now eight and nine. Soon she was at ten, ready to make the right turn to head down the second length. We both felt triumphant.
“Here I go!” she trumpeted. “Hey! I can see the train yards from here!”
“Be careful! Don’t fall off!” As if it was her plan.
Swivelling like a gymnast on a balance beam, Jody faltered a bit but bent forward to compensate. Her arms flailed and I saw her tip slightly sideways. She looked so small that I wished all the more that I stood there instead. My heart lurched, but she righted herself once more and set out along the final leg. One step, two steps, three steps. My neck began to ache from staring up. I felt sweat trickling down my back.
At the sixth log, two things happened. Mrs. Yaroslav opened her front door to let the two dogs out. They were friendly Labs, but they came out barking because Mrs. Boseman from next door chose that precise moment to clatter at the fence gate, coming in for morning coffee. She couldn’t see us for the trees and bushes dotting the yard.
This untimely confluence of events proved too exciting for the two dogs, who bounded toward the gate with barks and howls. Poor Jody turned too far to look over her shoulder.
“Jody! Don’t look!” I warned. As if she could prevent herself.
It was too late. Jody lost her balance and fell at the sixth marker. I ran forward to try to catch her, with no luck. She landed mostly on her feet, but the impact proved too much for her tired legs, and one ankle went out from under her. A small cracking sound caused her to shriek in pain. Then her ankle began to swell. She lay on one side, holding her leg above the break and wailing like a banshee. I rushed to her side.
“Jody! Are you okay?” My voice was tearful, joining hers.
The two mothers came running out of the house at the sound of Jody’s shrieks and sobs.
“Oh my gosh!” said Jody’s mother. “She’s broken her ankle! You kids and that fence! Honestly!”
“I’ll run to the Dispatch tower!” said Mrs. Boseman, seeing the crooked bend in Jody’s ballooning foot. “You get some ice. She’ll have to be flown out.” And off she dashed.
The Dispatch tower had walkie-talkies and telephones. It was the communication centre for the camp and the outside world. Being “flown out” meant being taken by float plane to Alert Bay, the only hospital site in the area. Woss Camp had a medic, but not for serious injuries.
Luckily, Chuck Yaroslav’s speeder hadn’t yet left the train yards for the bush, due to the lateness of Speeder 121. He arrived home by foot twenty minutes later. Jody’s ankle, now bathed in ice, was lifted with the rest of her and rushed back to the Dispatch Tower by several neighbours. There she was deposited onto a two-passenger speeder and borne three miles south to Woss Lake, where a float plain awaited. Chuck rode along, muttering reassurances. We later heard that the painkillers kicked in about halfway there, and that Jody enjoyed the flight in a foggy haze.
Back at Camp, kids came running from all directions, keen to hear the gory details of Jody’s fall.
“What happened?” cried Gary and Sammy from down the road.
“She was almost across the second side when she fell! It was the farthest she ever got, but then the dogs came out and scared her! You should have seen it!”
“What happened?” shrieked school pals Mary and Leslie, arriving two minutes later. Then we’d have to explain it all over again. Not that we minded. While sympathetic to Jody’s plight, everyone secretly enjoyed the shivers of shock and horror experienced upon telling and hearing the tale. It was the most exciting thing that had happened in Camp for ages.
Jody returned all smiles the next day, hobbling on crutches, her foot immobilized in a white cast and signed by hospital staff, railway engineers and loggers. She became an instant heroine, all the kids clustering around to hear about the Great Fall and the float plane to the hospital in Alert Bay. Everybody wanted to sign her cast. There wasn’t a kid in Camp who didn’t envy her that plane ride. And, of course, we all got fresh lectures from our folks about camp safety.
As a result of all the fuss, at least three weeks passed before any of us dared to walk the King Kong fence again.
Three whole weeks! That was a feat as amazing as walking the fence itself.