The Dark Art of Dark Ops.

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This is the daytime view from the dock at our rental house on Lake Otsego. It’s beautiful and all, for sure. Fish jumping off in the distance. Mallard ducks paddling around in groups of 6 or 8. An occasional speedboat passing by pulling a child giggling wildly on an inner tube.

Don’t get me wrong. I love all this stuff. Really. I do.

But the better time is when the sun has gone back down. The ducks have gone in for the night. The powerboats have long since docked for the day. The fish are no longer on the prowl for gangly flies suspended by the water’s surface tension.

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But it’s not about the gorgeous, nearly-full moon.

It’s about my brothers and I channeling our inner Seal Team Sixes in calculated, patient attempts to scare the bejesus out of one another. And these are no ordinary jump-scares. No. Creativity is applauded. Encouraged. A game in which the running score is kept over the course of years. Decades, even.

Example: One night this past week, I scrambled under our steep set of deck stairs, disappearing into the pitch black. I sat in wet moss and mud. Spitting cobwebs out of my mouth. Breathing quietly, to the point of light-headedness. Confident that my spot could not be revealed by the approaching beam of a flashlight, on account of the angle of the steps above my head. When my brother stepped cautiously down the stairs back to the dock, no amount of scanning about with his flashlight would help him. In fact, hearing nothing and seeing nothing in the the throw of his light might even inspire a false sense of security. A dangerous state of mind in this game. I happily endured the moss-soaked seat and spider bites on my arm, savoring the imminent shock I would soon deliver. Brilliant. Best scare in a long time.

Only it never came to fruition. I had sat motionless for 30 minutes in my little spider hole, maybe longer, when my self-satisfaction began to dissolve. It suddenly dawned on me that too much time had elapsed. Something did not feel right. I came to grips with the fact that I was not going to grab out of the darkness an unsuspecting ankle scampering giddily down the stairs.

With a dry mouth, I recognized that the predator had just become the prey.

I made the mistake of assuming my brother’s only route back down to the lake was the staircase. My staircase. The one I now shared with the moss and spiders.

Wrong.

Instead, as I sat soaked but euphoric with visions of my best scare in a long time, my brother “went dark.”

I later learned that he had tip-toed down the street above, snuck down a different set of long deck stairs, stripped down to his skivvies, and slithered into the shallows. He slowly made his way to my twenty from a click down-lake, wading neck-deep and completely assassin-silent. The near-hypothermia that came later was, I’m sure, totally worth it.

He popped up out of the black water Chuck Norrisian, and grabbed my nephew’s ankle, thereby delivering the bejesus moment.

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(Yes, it was my nephew’s ankle. Not mine. I was still under the stairs with the spiders.) My nephew screamed and I jumped where I sat, startled, banging my spider-webbed head on the underside of one of the steps. Half-concussed.

And defeated.

Out Seal Team-Sixed by my brother. My youngest brother, no less. It’s true. My depression was made worse by an indepent scare later from my other brother, launching goofy-faced out of the bushes at me.

It took a few hours for the adrenaline to wear off.

Thankfully, there will be other dark nights. More dark ops. And I’ve already begun to plan….

Thanks for reading.

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