Short Story

By Denebola
Published: October 2008

By Grace Herman

This doesn’t seem right. The portage was supposed to be right here¦

People think they know what true nature is. They believe if they trudge their way up a mountain or take a relaxing paddle down the Charles, they are real “outdoorsy types. Nothing could be further from the truth. Being outdoorsy doesn’t mean just appreciating the beauty of nature, but being able to survive when nature is all you have. In the backwoods of Ontario, the young men at Camp Pathfinder understand that “camping is nothing to “tripping, and tripping is everything but a walk in the park.

“Chris! Chris, I think we missed the portage! Trip rule number one: never question your headman. Trip rule number two: whatever punishment you receive after you break rule number one is your own fault.

“Oh, sorry, Dave. I must have missed the red bandana on your head making you the headman of this trip. Phil, a camper, heard his headman mutter, watching closely as Chris raised his paddle, dripping with icy cold water, and made a motion as if to splash Dave.

The look in Chris’s face, hidden beneath five days worth of dirt streaks and sunburn, was, disappointingly to the boys, far worse than his response. “Well, if I wanted advice from a CIT¦oh, no, I wouldn’t. Both of you just shut up and let me read the map.

Phil was shocked. How Lame! Not even one sucker splash. If this trip doesn’t pick up soon I’m gonna be forced to throw myself to the counselors for bait.

It had been five days on the Temagami River. After a few days of soaking wet clothing, each drop was like a pin jabbing into the boys’ frozen and aching bodies. Their wrinkled hands fumbled at the zippers of their life jackets as they pretended not to hear the conversation among their frustrated and exhausted guides.

“Aw, dammit. It was supposed to be right here. Where is it? Chris mumbled under his breath. Phil was just about to fake anaphylactic shock when Dave and Brown broke the deafening silence.

“Man, the rain must have screwed the river. When I came down Temagami last year, there were rocks jutting out everywhere. Dude, there’s, like, nothing, nada. I don’t even see a water line on the cliffs. Dave, always the observant one of the bunch, lay back in the stern of his red canvas canoe and used his paddle as a rudder, steering the boat between phantom rocks and invisible reeds.

“Whatever. I’m just freakin’ hungry. Camper volunteer!

Phil lifted himself onto his elbows and threw his head back. Here was his chance to craft some excitement. “Aw man, c’mon we’re tired too!

“Sure you are, but I don’t really give a damn. When I was a camper, I had to do camper volunteers and, ya see, Phil, this here is a hierarchy. Seeing as you are at the bottom of the tripping food chain, you, my friend, have to abide by the rules of a camper volunteer. . Brown’s lackadaisical tone made it very clear to Phil that, regardless of the camper’s personal opinion, Brown would get what he wanted.

“Fine. What then, master Brown? The break in the day’s nervous confusion gave Phil the boost he needed.

“Get me an apple out of the food pack, you smart ass.

Phil leaned carefully over the thwart of his boat. Without disturbing the boat’s careful balance upon the surface of the water, Phil leaned deep into the pack, blindly searching for one of the last apples they had. Whether the quickly accelerating pace of his boat or his friends’ shouts tipped him off he didn’t know but suddenly, Phil was knocked to the very edge of the canoe.

Chris yelled with an intensity that told Phil the joking was over. “CRAP! Guys, zip up your lifejackets. Sit the hell down boys!

Phil opened his eyes and immediately clenched them shut and grabbed the gunwales tight.

Jerking on the back of Phil’s lifejacket and throwing him to the floor of the boat, Dave yelled out to him. “Phil, DON’T GRAB THE GUNWALES!

“Chris, what do we do?! These are canvas boats; we’ll never shoot this! Brown’s chill tone had been replaced with fear in the face of such unexpectedness.

“You guys know your white-water training skills. Ride out the turns, look for rocks, and brace HARD.

Phil peered over the side of what now felt like a car on a roller coaster. What used to be a deep green, flat surface of water was now a giant, rolling, and white set of violent waves. He could feel his friend Joe shaking right next to him.

“Phil, grab hold of the thwart and don’t let go! Monkey-style, man; just wrap your body around it. We’re gonna be fine! Now Chris’s voice wasn’t the only one shaking as Dave tried desperately to bark his orders.

Phil, still pinned to the bottom of the boat, crept his hand up its side. When he found the smooth wood of the thwart, he latched on with his soaking palm and dug his nails into its glossy shell. As he lifted his other hand up, all he could hear was the yells from his counselors, incomprehensible over the thundering sound of the water. Suddenly, Chris’s voice rang loud and clear. “DAVE, BRACE!

Phil felt himself being flung from the boat, and all he could hope was to avoid landing in that avalanche of water. He smacked down on a firm, grainy surface and tried as hard as he could to wrap his small, aching body around this round fixture. With legs wrapped around another rock and acting as his only leverage, Dave heaved Joe into Brown’s boat right as it was passing by. Phil turned his head to the other side and saw that he was mere feet from the shore.

Dave, as if reading his mind, screamed to him. “Phil, stay right where you are!

“Dave, help! I can’t¦my arms. Each time Phil opened his mouth, a rush of icy cold water blocked his throat.

“It’s okay, buddy. We’re gonna be fine, just hang on. I’m gonna try to come over to you but if I get swept off, stay where you are. There’s a break down the river a bit and once I hit it, I’ll come back for you. Can you climb up any higher on the rock?

“Uh-huh, Phil managed to gargle as another gush hit his mouth.

Phil scrambled up the side of the soaking rock and, once the scrawny camper was on top, Dave unwrapped his legs from his own rock and flung himself towards Phil. The power of the water was crushing. Phil watched as Dave jumped upstream so that the water would drag him down to the terrified camper. Phil’s hand clutched at the back of Dave’s life jacket and tugged hard against the pull of the tide. Dave held on tightly to Phil as the camper struggled to recover him from the water’s ruthless grasp. Both clinging to the slippery surface of the rock, the two huddled together and bent their heads against the roar of the river on either side of them.

After an hour of shivering and panting on top of the rock’s awkward surface, the two young men heard voices from the shoreline down-river.

“Dave! Phil! Guys, can you hear us? Brown’s voice, though frantic, brought a burst of energy to the sore couple.

“Brown! Dude, we’re over here on the rock! Man, help! As their counselor tugged the boat along the rocky edge of the water, he seemed to limp and sway with every step. Once the boat was stable, Dave and Phil moved lethargically into the cracked and soaking basin and looked straight ahead, like stunned zombies.

The rest of the group waited about a  half a mile down the river. Scraped, bruised, and soaked, they sat on the edge of the water staring into the once again calm depths of the river’s greenish belly. Chris sat among them, shell-shocked, with his arms wrapped around his torn and bloody shins. Dave and Phil pulled themselves out of the boats and collapsed onto the cushy surface of pine needles and moss. Chris lay next to Dave with his arm covering his face.

“All accounted for.

Phil watched as Dave gently closed his eyes and, for a brief moment, squeezed them tight. With a great sigh, deep as his bruised ribs would allow, Dave turned back to Phil and said with a weary smile, “Hey, Phil, don’t you owe a camper volunteer?

Read more

Like it? Share it!


Copyright © Denebola | The Official School Newspaper of Newton South High School | 140 Brandeis Road, Newton, MA 02459.
Site designed by Chenzhe Cao.