Troy carries a wooden pole on one end, and a ten-year-old boy named Danny carries the other end. They haul the package through the woods back to their lair.
Some of the boys and even the few girls gawk at their kill.
"What have you got here?" asks Norman. He looks at the animal- light-tan fur, paws, and wedge-shaped nose. A few crossbow bolts are stuck inside the animal.
"Pretty cool," says Troy. "We bagged ourselves a lion."
Norman thinks about the creature. The lion was probably from a hunting preserve or a zoo nearby- he remembers that some of the land to the east was used as hunting preserves for exotic animals.
He looks and sees a boy of about fourteen ride up on a bike. He is not one of theirs; he is dressed in plaid shirt, denim pants, and broad-brimmed Stetson hat. He has a machete in a scabbard slung on his back, and a pistol in a holster by the hip.
"Welcome," says Norman.
"He's on his way, sir," says the boy.
A few minutes later, three people ride up on horseback. Chief Running Bull of the Klamath tribe steps down from his Appaloosa.
"Welcome to our headquarters," says Norman. "You and yours are honored guests here."
"Are things going well here?" asks the Indian chief.
"Yes," says Norman. It had been a year since he assumed leadership here. He had appointed other Big Brothers, survived another Cascade winter. As soon as the snow melted, Norman and his people met with the farmers and ranchers and other leaders on both sides of the Cascades. While they all agreed that Highway 140 would be free for all peaceful and lawful travelers, travelers would have to pay tribute to Norman and his crew for use of the forest and its bounty.
We get cloth now. Animal hides keep us warm, but they are not comfortable to sleep in.
Norman also has a trading post. Traders from the Rogue Valley and the Klamath River Basin find it more convenient to simply go to the trading post next to Highway 140- and pay tribute- than travel all the way to the other side.
And bandits have not attacked people traveling through the forest, not for many, many weeks.
The air is slightly warm now; Norman wears a short-sleeve shirt. Each season has its own benefits.
"Hi, Norman," says Tania, steeping off from her horse.
"Hi," says Tania.
"Good to see you on your feet," says Troy.
Tania takes a brief walk around her horse. She no longer takes walking for granted; the memories of the time her leg was in a cast are still fresh.
"What's going on out there?" asks Troy.
"We now trade with the farmers and ranchers around Bend, and even as far south as Weed in California," she replies. "Our scouts have confirmed that people are resettling the Willamette Valley."
"Mostly by people who are tired of having to work for their farmer or rancher and want to be their own boss," adds another Indian, a boy of about fifteen. "It's dangerous there, though, bandits still wait in the nearby hills, waiting to strike at the settlers."
"One of the girls in the tribe had a baby girl just two weeks ago," says Tania. "Two more girls are pregnant."
So we're growing up, thinks Norman. He is sixteen now. He has had to use larger clothes now, and now has to use adult-sized shoes. And it is not just physical growth he is experiencing.
He had started to notice more about girls, noticing the shape of their bodies and desiring to strip off the layers of their clothes. During a recent trip to Medford, some of the girls he had seen at the marketplace there stimulated temporary growth.
I enjoyed childhood. But I'm growing up. Still, the people we grow up to be is determined by what we did then and what we do now. We can make the world a better place than the one our parents lived in, and we can make it a thousand times worse. It depends on us, our choices.
Another boy bikes up, a fifteen-year-old boy with tow hair, blue eyes, and dressed in a blue short-sleeved T-shirt and jeans. Norman recognizes him as Jim, an aide of a wealthy farmer near Medford- wealthy meaning growing enough food to feed more than hundred people.
"Hi, Norman,": says Jim.
"How are things going on at your farm?" asks Norman.
"We're looking for a good harvest. We'll have plenty of fruits and nuts and grain, even after forking over the Bossman's share. And we heard about what's been happening elsewhere?"
"Like what?" asks Norman. The others tune their ears to Jim's mouth.
"Some refugees came to Medford from the coast," answers Jim. "Their homes were burned and looted by people coming on from boats and ships."
Growing up can wait, thinks Norman. We have pirates to deal with!