Thursday, February 19, 2015

Nerds in the Wild (Part 1)

How about a short story this week. Actually, for the next two weeks. It’s two-parter, so I’ll finish it on the 26th. Enjoy.

Creative Commons-3
I cursed under my breath. The car was a mile behind us, the only vehicle in the canyon’s parking lot. That worried me a little. Where was everyone else? This was Saturday. There should be lots of nature lovers out. Like the local jocks we’d overheard talking about this great trip they took up Golier Canyon, making it all sound adventurous and manly.
Now, it just seemed like work. Loaded down with a spanking new backpack that rode heavy on my shoulders and rose half a foot over my head, I was tired and had aching feet. My brand new boots were rapidly raising a brand new blister on my right heel.
“Ron,” I wheezed, “we’re the only ones up here.”
“Yeah, isn’t it great?”
I glanced at him. His cheeks were unnaturally red and sweat fogged the thick lenses of his bottle glasses.
“Why isn’t anyone else up here?”
He stopped and leaned back to look at the tiny patch of sky visible above the canyon’s steep, soaring walls. Unbalanced by a pack with the price sticker still on it, he would have fallen over backwards if I hadn’t propped him up.
“Maybe the weather scared them off. It’s supposed to rain, you know.” He waved a hand in a vaguely westward direction. “But that’s over in Howard County.”
“Yeah, like the rainstorm knows where the county line is,” I said, heavy on sarcasm.
I quit bitching in order to concentrate on where to put my sore feet on a path composed of nothing but loose rocks. When we came to a flat shelf high above the creek rushing down the floor of the canyon, I rebelled.
“That’s it. I’m not going any farther.”
He turned eyes magnified by a factor of two by his bifocals on me. “Zeke, you’re such a wuss.”
I dropped my pack it to the ground, shucked the canteen, and loosened my father’s military web belt laden with a knife and compass and a GP locator. Why did I need a GPL in a canyon you could only go up or down? But Ron had insisted.
“I’m not a wuss,” I said. “I’m a geek, and so are you. I need to be surrounded by computers and IPhones and Wi-fi and things electronic.” I waved my hand around. “Not by rocks piled on stones and limestone stacked on …” I ran out of geologic terms and stopped.
“This is nature, man. Enjoy it.” He surveyed the area, which was no more than about a fifty-foot square of stone, containing a few strands of grass and two scraggly pines for shade. “Not too bad. We can set up our tent here, I guess.”
I bent over to pick up my pack and jumped backwards. “Whoa!”
“What? What is it?” Ron’s eyes went owlish.
“Snake. There. On a rock.”
He gawked at the tightly coiled serpent watching us from ten feet away. “Man, she’s big one? What kind is she?”
“Those button thingys on its end are probably a clue. It’s a rattlesnake, dodo. Tell it to go away.”
“How do I do that?”
“Wave your arms or something. This trip was your idea, man. Do something. And why did you call it a she?”
“Well, she could be. Snakes have males and females, too, you know.”
“What clued you? The long lashes on her eyes or the delicate curve of her fangs?”
“Zeke, stop being shitty. Throw a rock or something at her.”
Even after the snake got tired of our throwing stones at it and slithered down toward the creek bed, I was uneasy. What if this was a rattlesnake roundup place or something. Still, I was too tired to start walking again.
We put up the tent we’d purchased yesterday afternoon. Actually, we popped up the tent. It was one of those all-in-one things that actually pops up. Well, that’s the way the sporting goods salesman explained it, but since it didn’t have wires and resistors and sensors, we had a little trouble with it.
The tent was no sooner up than it began to shower. Mid-morning quickly began looking like twilight. I gazed straight up into boiling, seething clouds that seemed to scrape the top of the canyon walls before scrambling inside our temporary home. Despite myself, I began to enjoy the pitter patter of the drops gently assailing the canvas sheltering us. Except it wasn’t canvas. It was some kind of fancy new material. Before long, the drops got louder and came down harder. Our shower had turned into a rain. Soon, it became a deluge.
“Crap, Ron, this is never going to stop. I’ve half a mind to head back to the car.”
In the gloom of the closed tent, I saw him shiver. “That’s a cold rain, man. You’d drown or freeze before you got there. Besides, it’ll stop soon, and tomorrow morning we can go exploring.”
“Explore, my ass. I just wanna go home. I’m hungry, and all I’ve got is hot dogs and fixings. We can’t even build a campfire. How am I gonna cook the weenies?”
He brightened and rummaged around in a pack – my pack, as a matter of fact – to haul out a black, cast iron skillet.”
“No wonder my backpack was so heavy. What do we need that for?”
“To cook the fish we’re gonna catch tomorrow.
“You made me haul that up the mountain? Why didn’t you put it in your pack?”
“No room.” He opened a can of something that looked like Sterno but had a different name on it.
“It’ll take forever to roast a weenie on that.”
“Uh, uh.” Ron dumped the whole can of nauseating-looking gel out into the skillet and put some scraps of paper in the stuff. It didn’t seem to want to start, but eventually, he got it going. The flames were a little high, but reached nowhere near the top of the tent. The entire enclosure was instantly a bit cozier. He had a couple of wire hangers that worked just as well for cooking weenies as they did for roasting marshmallows. Before long, I was full of weenies and buns.
“What’s that smell?” I asked as I leaned back to relieve the pressure on my stuffed gut.
“What smell?”
“Oh, Geez! The tent’s on fire.”
“There! Underneath the pan.”
Well, it wasn't actually burning, but it was going to be. Soon. Wisps of smoke oozed from beneath the iron skillet.
Ron lunged for the handle. “Unzip the tent!” 
I had my hand on the zipper when he let out a yelp and dropped the skillet. Burning goo flowed sinuously out of the tipped pan onto the floor.
Our fancy new tent might be waterproof, but it sure wasn’t fireproof. Flames danced merrily. When they penetrated the first layer of the floor, the soft cushion of air that kept us off the ground instantly escaped and settled us on jagged pieces of rock.
I grabbed my canteen and emptied it on the flames.
“Nooo!” Ron howled. “Water spreads it. Smother the fire.”
I shrugged out of my coat and threw it on the burning mess. In a few seconds, the flames were out, but my coat was ruined. Charred and smeared with a pink goop, I wouldn’t even put it on again.
The rest of the day dragged by like an inchworm. Or maybe a quarter-inch worm. We had no computers. Our phones wouldn’t work. Ron had forgotten to bring his checkers, and I’d left my chess set behind. There wasn’t anything to do but stare at one another, try to ignore the smell of charred material, keep out of the water oozing up through the burnt hole, and occasionally talk to one another. It was still raining when we gave up and crawled into our sleeping bags.
Just before I surredered to exhaustion and fell asleep, I heard him  ask if I thought that rattlesnake could get in through the hole in the floor.
Please try to contain yourself until next week. And keep on reading. We authors are counting on you to do lots of that.

New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

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