A Skunk by the Tail

"I dare you!" Steven looked down at where his cousin Kyle was sitting on a branch. Past Kyle, the ground looked like a million miles away.

"Drop from this high up?" he said. "I dare you to do it."

Kyle looked down. "No way. I dared you first."

Slam! Below them, the back-porch door closed behind the boys' Great-grandfather Steuben. "Vere are those two boys?" A floating leaf made him look up. "Vat! Are you trying to be killed?"

"Hi, Grandpa Steuben," Kyle called. "Steven was about to drop down to the ground."

"I was not!"

Grandpa shook his head. "All boys must be crazy." He looked back up at his great-grandsons. "If you fall down and break both your legs, don't come running to me! Humf!" He turned and headed around the house to his garden.

Steven and Kyle loved the two weeks they spent every summer at their great-grandparents' house. The boys were nearly the same age, and every year, they had to prove again who was the best. Steven could climb faster; Kyle finished their races a half-step ahead. Steven won most games of checkers; Kyle won at dominos.

The porch door opened again. "Boys! Boys? Vell, I guess these cookies vill grow cold and lonely."

Steven looked at Kyle. "Coming, Grandma!" they both shouted as they raced to the ground.

Their cookies had just disappeared when Grandpa stomped in. "All my hard vork in the garden, and a skonk digs it up. Vat I need is a good shotgun."

"Grandpa, control your temper," Grandma scolded. "Ve are teaching these boys to care for nature, not destroy it. The skunk does vhat all skunks do."

Grandpa sighed and nodded. Then a half-smile spread over his face. "You remember Dieter, from the old country?"

Grandma smiled too. "He knew how to fix a skonk problem, eh?"

They both laughed in a quiet, distant way and then shook their heads. Kyle spoke up. "What did Dieter do about the skunk?"

"Vat? Oh, Dieter. He found a way to move a skonk without the spraying and stinking. He says if you pick up a skonk by the tail, it cannot spray you."

"Is that true?" Steven asked.

"Vat? A skonk by the tail? Yes, I guess it is true." Grandpa chuckled again, then closed his eyes.

Later, the boys sat on the stone wall by the garden, resting from a race through the woods. "Hey, what's that?" Kyle asked as he pointed down the wall.

Steven stretched for a better look at the animal walking along the ground. "It's a skunk! It must be headed back to Grandpa's garden."

"I dare you to grab it," Kyle said quietly.

"What? You lost your mind?"

Kyle rolled his eyes. "Grandpa said it was safe to pick up a skunk by the tail. All you have to do is lie here. When the skunk walks by underneath with its tail up - grab it!"

"I dare you to do it," Steven whispered.

"I dared you first," Kyle hissed back. "Are you afraid?"

Steven rolled over and reached toward the ground. Yes, he probably could reach the skunk. I don't want Kyle to think I'm afraid, he thought. "Ok, I'll do it."

Steven watched the skunk as it wandered along, stopping to scratch and sniff as it went. When it came close, he hardly dared blink. When it was right underneath him, he stopped breathing.

He slowly reached down toward the skunk's back. Then, with a quick grab, he snatched the skunk by the tail and held it up!

"I did it! I got him!"

"You really did it!" Kyle stared with his mouth hanging open. "That's amazing."

The skunk hissed and twisted, but Steven held it tight. "It can't spray as long as I'm holding the tail," he bragged.

Kyle looked at the skunk's angry eyes. "Do you think you'Íre hurting it? Maybe you should put it down."

"If you say so," Steven agreed. He bent over, then quickly straightened up. "Wait a minute. If I set it down, it'll spray me for sure."

Kyle blinked. "But you can't hold it forever. You have to put it down." Suddenly, he started backing away, toward the house.

"Hey, this was your idea," Steven said, trying not to panic. "What am I supposed to do?"

"Just drop it and run as fast as you can," Kyle said from a safe distance.

Steven looked around, but no better ideas showed up.

He bent his knees and held the skunk out as far as he could. Then he turned the tial loose and spun, running faster than he had ever run before.

It wasn't fast enough. Steven smelled the skunk spray before he took two steps. Still he ran, catching up with Kyle as they both ran straight for the back-porch door.

Grandma was there first. "Vat is that awful. . .boys, you didn't. . ."

"He did," Kyle said as he raced up and stood behind her. "Steven grabbed the skunk."

"It was Kyle's idea," Steven wailed as Grandma covered her nose with her apron. His eyes were burning and stinging now.

"Kyle, go get your grandfather. Then get that old blanket in the garage. Steven, go stand over there by the hose."

Before long, Grandpa arrived. "Vat in the vorld vere you boys thinking?"

"Later, Grandpa," Grandma said. "Steven, take off those smelly clothes. Grandpa, wrap him in the blanket. Then go to the store for some tomato juice. Lots of tomato juice."

Steven moaned again when he sat in the yard wrapped up in the blanket. Kyle tried to slip away to his room.

"Not so fast, Mr. Bright Ideas," Grandma said. "You go get the shovel and bury those clothes in the voods."

"But. . ." The look on Grandma's face stopped Kyle's next words. He went to get the shovel.

Much later, after much tomato juice, they all sat on the porch while Grandma combed Steven's hair. "Vhy vould you grab a skunk?" she asked.

"Kyle dared me to," Steven admitted sheepishly.

"And this meant you had to do it?" she asked. "Vat if he dared you to stand in front of a train? You vould do this?"

"I didn't want him to think I was afraid," Steven said quietly.

"I'm sorry, Steven. I thought it was OK to grab a skunk," Kyle protested. "Grandpa said Dieter did it in the old country."

"Dieter didn't like to think,' Grandma said, tapping her head. "He did anything people dared him to do."

"I think maybe ve got the same problem here," Grandpa said in a loud voice.

"Not anymore," Steven declared. "I don't care what Kyle or anyone says. I'll do what I think is right, even if they think I'm a chicken."

"Me too," Kyle said.