By Stephen C. Schultz
His breathing was heavy and fast. Mucus sprayed from his nostrils and his cheeks fought the g-forces as if he were a fighter pilot leaving the deck of an aircraft carrier in an F-16. His neck muscles strained and his face grimaced as the fight or flight response kicked in. Five; six; seven now eight steps into his evasive action that was steeped in athletic prowess and natural instinct, he thought he was in the clear. Once again, he had cheated death and the angels of mercy had looked down upon him.
It didn’t register right away. With each step, the distance grew larger between him and his immediate threat. It shouldn’t have happened this way. There was so much to live for. He was in the prime of his life with family and friends who loved and cared about him. He didn’t want it to end this way.
The pain was quick and sharp. It penetrated right in the square of his back between his shoulder blades. His chest was thrust forward and his arms flew into the air and backwards as he went to his knees. The shout, filled with emotion, made its way through the air to his buddies; “I’ve been hit!”
For Scott Schultz, his life didn’t end that day. In fact, he scampered right up, with the help of his friends, and ran the rest of the way to his third grade classroom at Westmoreland Elementary School in Eugene, Oregon. While this adrenaline filled experience was real, there is certainly more to this story.
A few weeks prior, Scott’s older brother Steve sat in his sixth grade classroom struggling to concentrate on his math assignment. Mrs. Sexton was in her last year as an elementary teacher and Steve took full advantage of her inattentiveness. There were always creative opportunities for kids with wandering imaginations like Steve had.
One day Steve was lost in thought (Daydreaming) and thinking about the lunchroom antics of taking a straw and poking a peach or a small pea and then shooting the plug out of the straw at unsuspecting peers. Oh, what a riot that would start! Kids shooting peaches, pears and peas at each other. The lunch lady would run frantically from table to table trying to keep those young hooligans under control. It was a sight to behold!
Then his thoughts faded to his time spent at his grandparents house and the shelves of National Geographic Magazines that lined the spare bedroom. He recalled the times he spent reading about indigenous peoples and tribes in the jungles of South America or on the desert plains of Africa. One of the tools of survival always seemed to be a blow dart weapon of some kind used for hunting as well as war.
What were the darts made of? How were they constructed? How far could they shoot? Did the blow gun need to be as long as the pictures he saw, or could it be short and still be effective? Would a straw work? These are the thoughts that stirred around in his head as he got up and walked to the back of the classroom to get a drink.
The water fountain was simply a spigot attached to the faucet at the sink. There was a long counter that ran below the windows the full length of the classroom wall. On the counter were random school supplies in little boxes; colored paper, pencils, pens, extra glue, thumb tacks and a manual pencil sharpener bolted to the counter. On the way back to his desk, Steve simply ran his hand along the counter and noticed the supplies out of the corner of his eye. With a quick glance in the direction of Mrs. Sexton, Steve impulsively grabbed a straight pin and a small spool of thread.
Research and development took place at random times over the course of the next couple of weeks. How it all came together, he wasn’t quite sure. The breakthrough came when he remembered watching his father tie flies for fishing. There was the little clamp that would hold the hook and his father would wrap the thread around the hook, binding feathers and animal fur to make the flies. It was the wrapping of the thread around the hook and the feathers that caught his attention. He knew feathers had been used in old times as fletching on arrows...that was the secret! It all started coming together.
Production was easier than he thought. He took the thread, folded it in half, then half again. He continued to do this until he had about two inches of thread with loops at each end. He placed the loops of one end of the thread over the head of the straight pin. He put a small bead of Elmer's Glue over the loops and started wrapping a single filament of thread around the pin just like a fisherman making a fly. Then he simply took some scissors and snipped the other end of loops so there was about an inch of bushy thread extending beyond the head of the pin. Now...next was the delivery system!
A straw from the lunch room might work just fine, but it was too conspicuous. People might notice a straw and wonder; “Hey, why do you have that straw?” However, no one would ask about a pen. Especially at school. Students are supposed to have pens. Pens can hide in plain sight and nobody's the wiser. So, Steve took a pen from his desk. He pried the plug out of one end and pulled the writing tip and ink reservoir out with his teeth from the other end. He now had a hollow tube...Genius!
The inaugural test wasn’t so genius! While the creativity on the creation of the dart and delivery system may have been beyond his years, the testing phase was not. Steve proceeded to twist the dart into the tapered end of the pen. He concealed the pen in the palm of his hand and casually leaned back in his chair so he was facing the ceiling. He brought the pen to his mouth and nonchalantly blew as hard as he could, making a faint coughing sound as he brought his hand down and then sat forward in his seat.
The dart launched out of the pen and proceeded in a straight, unaltering line directly into the ceiling and stuck there. No one noticed, no one even looked in Steve's direction. As far as anyone in class knew, he was just another kid who performed an over dramatic cough. But, there it was, directly over his head. A small, dark pin dart stuck in the ceiling above his desk. Would the teacher see it? Not likely! Would it fall out and hit some kid in the head? Probably not. What if they found out it was Steve who made it? It couldn’t be proved.
Steve laid low for the next few days. He didn’t want any attention to come his way. He did show the dart in the ceiling to his long time friend Andy Smith, and they chuckled about it, but swore each other to secrecy. Since the dart was firmly embedded in the ceiling, it was decided Steve would move production to his home. He spent wistful time making darts with different colored thread to bring an artistic aspect to an already creative endeavor. He practiced shooting them into the wall in his room. He even included his younger brother Scott in this childhood adventure. The two of them didn’t perceive this activity any different than shooting marbles out of a homemade slingshot, firing BB guns at the reservoir or throwing knives at the big oak tree in the front yard. It’s what kids did in the early 1970’s.
As sixth graders, Steve and Andy would help Mr. Holt with the other PE classes on certain days. These classes consisted of students from first through fifth grade. On the particular day that this story began, Steve and Andy were assisting Mr. Holt with Scott's third grade class. As the clean up time at the end of class began, Steve pulled the lapel of his jacket back and revealed to Scott the pen in his shirt pocket. A mischievous grin appeared on his face. Scott immediately knew what this meant and whispered to his classmates they may be in danger. Anxiety filled the air as Scott realized what may transpire over the next few minutes of his life.
These two brothers had a history of engaging in mutual shenanigans. If it wasn’t sliding down the stairs on cookie sheets, it was riding Big Wheels down Trillium Street, legs out to the side with the pedals in a blur. They were always involved in some type of risky behavior that included bumps on the head, bruises, cuts and scraped knees. This particular time was no different.
Steve moved to the door of the gymnasium just as Mr. Holt was dismissing the class. Outside and to the right of where the door would open, Steve stood waiting with the pen placed strategically to his lips. The door burst open with a loud clunk and third graders poured out in a steady stream of hoots and hollering. Steve waited patiently. Scott ran out in the middle of the pack, noticed Steve to his right and kicked his planned escape up a notch. In one fluid motion, Steve stepped to the center of the breezeway, inhaled through his nose and exhaled in a short burst that sent the dart gliding effortlessly through the air and impacting Scott right between the shoulder blades.
Now, before anyone contacts the authorities, it’s important to remember that this took place in Eugene, Oregon in the winter of 1974. The fashion in those days was to wear a thick flannel shirt and a puffy down coat. The writer of this story is proud to report that there was no blood drawn on this particular day!
Steve was unceremoniously ratted out by witnesses and called down to the principal's office. He was suspended for a day and given a note to take home to his parents. Any further mischievous behavior at school was nipped in the bud and Steve became a model student, well...one that flew under the radar anyway!
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