The Believers

The Believers

A Story by Keith P. Farrell

Two boys discover they can achieve anything in a true story set in 1992, CT which also reveals a snapshot of the social, cultural and political landscapes in the early 90's as viewed by a 9 year old


The Believers

By Keith Farrell


The summer of 1992 I was nine years old.  My mother and I were living in a duplex on a dead end street, in one of the quitter neighborhoods of Torrington, Connecticut.  My favorite sports team, the Washington Redskins, had just won the Super Bowl that previous winter, which was all that occupied my mind. 

The country was fresh out of the Persian Gulf War, which enforced everyone’s view the America was without doubt the greatest nation.  The concept of war was a foreign idea to me at that age, and the Gulf War, being over nearly as soon as it started, did not stir any fears or anxiety in my young mind.  There had been something afoul in places I never knew existed and the United States had gone and rectified it.  This was not anything like the conflicts I had seen on television.  Those types of violent conflicts were a thing of the past, I was assured.  Wars like World War I and II and Vietnam, which my best friend Cody studied to an almost unhealthy point, were of a much larger scale and now extinct in this new era of peace and prosperity.  In all the country was on a tremendous high, we were the victors and once again our nation had played the part of the hero.  Our economy was surging, with no end in sight, and the job market was strong.  Not that I had the slightest understanding of what this meant, to me it was clear by the attitudes of the adults around me that America was the best, our people virtuous and our role in the world one of the unrelenting hero.  I was told by uncles and elders alike how lucky I was to be an American; how lucky I was to be free.   

Cody had his own family, home and toys, though you would never know it by the time he spent at my house.  We had met each other when I was only three years old, when my mother and I had moved in downstairs from him and his mother at our previous apartment.  My mother and I moved around quite a bit over the years, but we always stayed in Torrington and Cody always found his way there. 

On that particular day, Cody had slept over the night before and as usual we had stayed up later playing video games on my Nintendo Entertainment System.  We played Contra, Wolfenstein and other war games (mostly Cody’s choices). The summer often found Cody and I full of angst and boredom, with endless days with nothing to do but occupy ourselves as we saw fit.  The Nintendo was a treasured past time, but we were no couch potatoes.  We were usually running around outside pretending to be cops, army men, or the Hardy Boys, always at the center of some elaborate plot we constructed in our heads as we went.  We rode the swings on the swing set sideways; our imaginary motorcycles, with our imaginary girlfriends on the back.  Like most boys we loved to play in rock piles, thick woods, construction sites or anywhere else we could get hurt. 

That morning we woke up early and helped ourselves to cereal from the cupboard before continuing to play Nintendo.  We soon bored of sitting in front of the TV and turned to mischief.  Cody often sneaked nudie magazines he’d stolen from his parents over, and for awhile we gazed upon the wonders of the female body like it was some far off, mystical place which we would never be fortunate enough to travel to.  Then we played with my G.I. Joe action figures and waited for my mother to wake up. 

My mother worked late usually, so her schedule was offset from ours.  She would normally rouse herself from bed around noon, several hours after Cody and I began to stir.  Our days in the summer usually revolved around us asking her to take us somewhere; the town pool, the local video store for a movie and perhaps a new game, or if we were unlucky she would have us accompany her on errands.  Regardless, the most exciting part of the day usually centered on my mother, and thus, until she woke up we often spent our time dreaming up places we could ask her to take us. 

“Maybe your mom can take us to R and B’s Sports World,” Cody suggested with eagerness.

“That could be cool,” I agreed.  R @ B’s offered go-carts, batting cages, mini golf and an arcade.  “Or at least the pool,” I offered an alternative, knowing my mother might shy away from R @ B’s because of the cost. 

“Yeah, that’d be fun too,” Cody conceded. 

Though we were far from poor, my mother did a great job hiding our economic realities from me.  Despite the fact that she was a single mother who refused welfare or state aid, I had all I needed, adequate clothing, plenty of toys and food in the cupboards.  I, unlike any of my other friends, was fortunate to have both a bedroom and a play room.  I had my own television in that play room and drawers of toys and games. 

Cody riffled through one of the drawers with my toys and pulled out my set of Operation Desert Storm Persian Gulf War trading cards. The set nearly matched Cody’s camouflaged Apache Helicopter t-shirt. 

“Hey, I think with my set and yours we have the whole set,” Cody said as he skimmed through the cards. 

“I have a lot of doubles,” I said.  “I think there are, like, four President Bush’s in there.”

“Do you have the one where he’s riding through Kuwait in the tank?”

“Yeah, it’s in there somewhere,” I said, joining him on the search till we had located the card we were searching for.  “These Robocop cards are mixed in.”  We began to separate and organize the cards.          

Around this time we heard the first sounding of my mother’s alarm clock.  It would usually go off for about ten to twenty minutes, blaring loudly through the house, before she would hit snooze.  The second time it went off she usually got up. 

“How does she sleep through that?” Cody asked.  One of us always asked this.  Sometimes, when the alarm failed to seize and my mother continued to sleep, oblivious to the unnerving wailing emanating from her nightstand, we would actually go into my mother’s room and shut it off ourselves rather than listen to it incessantly sound.

On this day the alarm was quieted sooner than normal and we heard my mother’s disgruntled noises as she made her way to the bathroom.  There was never any point in asking my mother anything, let alone even talking to her, till she had drank her first cup of coffee. 

We rejoiced, the process had begun, but we knew it would still be a couple of hours before she would consider taking us anywhere.  With this in mind, we ran outside to play for awhile.  At some point we began playing with my Ghostbusters toys. 

Ghostbusters was at the height of its popularity.  Originally a movie, it had spawned a sequel and a cartoon television show with a vast array of toys and trinkets for children to beg their parents to purchase for them.  I had all the action figures, the clubhouse, and jump suit, equipped with proton pack (a ghost-busting back pack powered gun) and ghost trap (for sucking menacing entities up for disposal, of course). 

After we had bored of that, we took to catching bugs.  At some point a net that was intended to catch butterflies was used for unintended purposes and caused us to ponder its effectiveness. 

“Do you think it’s possible to catch a butterfly in this thing?” Cody asked skeptically. 

“I don’t know, I guess so,” I replied.  I examined the net and the length of the handle.  “I suppose if you got lucky.”

“But what are the chances of that?” he asked, still convinced that this so-called butterfly net was a sham. 

“I guess, not that good,” I admitted.  “It is for catching butterflies, though,” I argued.  Why would they have made the net if you truly could not catch butterflies with it? 

“Well, Keith, you have had this for what, four years?” He said with a laugh.  Cody always had a great sense of humor.  “And how many butterflies have you caught?”

“Right?” I said with a laugh, now also convinced the net was a sham. “You would probably hurt a butterfly if you tried to catch it with that,” I added my own skepticism.  

“That’s true,” he agreed. 

“Butterflies are very delicate, you can’t just snatch them up,” I said with the utmost certainty.

“Right,” he concurred.  Cody and I weren’t just adventurers; after all, we were scholars.  We had spent many hours copying verbatim from my children’s encyclopedias and fancied ourselves experts in such fields as science and dinosaurs. 

“I bet we could come up with a better way to catch a butterfly,” I said with excitement.

“Of course, we could,” he answered immediately.  After all, why not? 

“It could be a big step for science,” I said, modestly. 

“So how do we do it?” 

That question stumped us for a matter of minutes.  Then my Ghostbusters trap, which was still sitting on the porch from before, came to mind. 

“We’ll trap it,” I proclaimed. 

“Right, but how do we do that?” 

“We can use the ghost trap,” I suggested. 

“Yes, but there is a problem,” Cody assessed.  “There is no way to keep it open.”

“What do you mean?”

“We can set the trap, but the footswitch opens it only for a minute before it shuts.  It would be better if the footswitch closed the trap.”  He was right, the trap would be hard to keep open and if we could find a way to keep it open we had no way of closing it on demand. 

Cody played with the trap for a few minutes and devised a solution.  He laid out the trap and extended the cord that led to the footswitch as far out as it would go.  He stepped on it a couple times to test its responsiveness and then fetched a cooler off of my front porch.  He placed the cooler on the trap and sat atop the cooler.  The weight on the mechanism kept the trap open.  He then stood up and moved the cooler and the trap shut.  

“Well that works,” I said with surprise.  “Only thing is, the trap closes kind of slow.”

“I know, that could be a problem.” 

We agreed that though flawed, the design was over all good and better than the net by far.  We picked some dandelions and other flowers from around the yard (mostly just weeds) and placed them in the trap. 

“What if we accidentally catch a bee?”

“What do you mean?” he asked. 

“Bees like flowers too.  What if we accidentally catch a bee and it gets pissed?  What do we do?” 

“Alright…” Cody pondered for a moment than answered confidentially that we would simply take the trap upstairs to my bathroom and submerge it in water, drowning the bee. 

My concerns alleviated we set forth on our task of catching a butterfly.  Never for a moment did we consider that we had never seen any butterflies in my yard or nearby, nor did we consider that butterflies aren’t particularly attracted to weeds.  We never thought about the odds; the chance that a butterfly would be nearby and actually decide to feast on some dandelions that were situated in a peculiar and most certainly unnatural blue, plastic device.  We did not know that butterflies were not even in season, knowing very little about butterflies at all. 

Despite all the reasons to believe the contrary, we never gave our failure a second’s consideration.  We absolutely knew it would work.  To this day it is utterly amazing for me to recall that within a few short minutes a beautiful butterfly, with vividly yellow and black colored wings, not only appeared but flew right into our trap.  We released the footswitch from under the cooler and the door to the trap closed, successfully trapping our prey.     

“Yes!” we both yelled.  We had done it, just as we had envisioned. 

“Wow- we caught a butterfly!” I exclaimed.  What a triumph!  What an accomplishment.  We raced to the trap and held it in our hands.  We could not see the creature inside, but we knew it was in there.  We had seen it, clear as day, fly in and the trap shut over its head. 

I remember feeling disappointed that we could not examine our catch, knowing that any attempt to actually open the trap and hold the creature would result in its immediate escape.  For this reason alone, I thought, the net had one up on our trap.  Though the net was a more violent, forceful method of trapping, the victors could examine their accomplishment.  Ours was one we could not physically hold or even see. 

I grabbed the trap, keeping both hand firmly over the top, for fear that the little insect would power his way through the trap doors to freedom.  We ran inside to the bathroom, where my mother was putting on her make-up. 

“Mom! Mom!” I yelled with glee.  I raced through the story of our triumph so quickly I nearly lost my breath.  I held up the trap with delight for her to share in our glory. 

“Very nice, dear,” she said with a smile.  Her forced excitement was all too recognizable to Cody and I.  Did she not hear me?  Did she not think it remarkable?  We had achieved a great thing- it was in my hand, before her eyes.  Did she even believe us?  After all, we were but children and our imaginations so very active.  I couldn’t blame her; for her it was a matter of faith.  She, like us, could not see the butterfly inside the trap.  We, however, knew it; we had witnessed it before our own eyes.  We had set out to achieve that very end and done so with remarkable accuracy.  We were not as surprised as we were vindicated.  We had envisioned those very events unfolding and never once considered the unlikelihood of it actually occurring.  We willed that butterfly into that trap, the inconceivable made reality by the limitless reaches of our imaginations.  In our young, naïve minds there was no reason to doubt our actions would succeed.  We had considered the plan, weighed the risks (the bee) and calculated our moves in accordance.  We had set forth to do something most would have thought impractical or impossible and achieved it with ease.  Neither of us expected any less, we knew it would happened, we believed it would as certain as we believed in anything.  

We released the butterfly almost immediately.  We did not want it to suffocate inside the trap and even more, we wanted to see it once again.  We could have kept it till it died and preserved it, thus preserving our victory, but we had other plans. We wanted to behold our accomplishment once more in its natural beauty, flying freely into the air as it had so gently glided into our trap.  We opened the trap and the butterfly gracefully flew out of the trap.  It seemed to float for just a moment before leaving us on a wind I can still almost feel on my face.  To this day I am certain that we succeeded because we believed we would, as if life was confirming our just pursuits of our wildest dreams.  As if faith had seen it fit to show us that we could accomplish anything together, if we only believe. 





© 2010 Keith P. Farrell

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Boys never change. I'm 62 and your tale could just as easily have taken place in the 1950's when I was a boy. A refreshing tale of youthful wonderment and hope.

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Added on June 12, 2010
Last Updated on October 10, 2010
Tags: children, kids, 1990's, politics, Gulf War, family, butterflies, peace, single mothers, short stories


Keith P. Farrell
Keith P. Farrell

Torrington, CT

Keith Farrell, an American Studies major at the University of Connecticut, is a high school teacher's aid and is studying to teach on the college level. He has his associates degree in liberal arts wi.. more..