The highway ran ahead forever, flanked on both sides by wilderness and under a cloudless blue sky. Eventually, we do turn off and the road changes. Transforms from this featureless straight line into this bending narrowing path that climbed, only to be swept down again by the next turn.
It is not unlike the roads near their home that wove through hills and forests, except there are no flashes of buildings through these trees.
I lean my head back and breathe in the rushing air, my gaze following the empty vein in the tree canopy and that flawless blue beyond it. The rest of the world, a blur.
“Hey, if you feel sick, I’ll pull over.” Bryan says. I look back at him and his eyes are darting between the road, me, and over the tan leather interior of the convertible.
“I’m fine,” I say. And as if in spite of that declaration, my stomach drops. I close my eyes for a moment willing the nausea to settle. Between Bryan’s driving, the roads, the regrettable choice of having only coffee for breakfast…
“Don’t throw up in my ride. I won’t be able to forgive that.”
I smile and lean my head back again, focusing on the way the sunlight dances through the tree leaves as they rush backward above me. And find myself absently tracing the top edge of the convertible door and body, hand occasionally lifting and dipping as if in simplistic mockery of an airplane. Just liking the way the wind feels on my skin.
This car had been Franks’. It hadn’t been forgotten by him after all—just regifted. I recall the last time I sat here in the passenger’s side—during that awkward time before the divorce when things between my mom and father had fallen apart but they were at least trying to put it all back together. It had been his day to pick me up and he was late as always. Back then I had kept to myself, didn’t really want to be noticed because I felt there was little spectacular to notice. I was an average student. Played baseball. Had friends of course but none I really bothered to talk to beyond school and practice. I was waiting that day in the yard near the pickup circle when a red convertible pulled up. The others waiting had sprung up and gathered around it. It was the impracticality of the thing that made it so very appealing to the kids there. I almost didn’t recognize Frank until he took off sunglasses and waved at me.
The car runs over something and I jolt awake, in the present again. The world green and shaded by trees. Bryan turns off onto an offshoot of the main road. Suspended far above us, a wooden sign hangs on a rope between two trees, but I don’t get a chance to read what it says.
The crunch of the gravel beneath the tires is obscenely loud, but Bryan doesn’t seem to be concerned at all. He has this weird expression on his face—somewhere between joy and nervousness.
We come up a steep hill and he slows at the top. And maybe it’s the sudden bright sunshine or his driving, but I feel sick again. Shut my eyes and try to pretend we’re not moving.
“Hold on, let me park.” He says, turning the wheel and spinning the world.
When the car comes to a standstill Bryan cuts the engine.
“Ok, out. We’re here.”
My stomach calms a little as I step out of the car. I look around.
Here is a parking lot. An empty, featureless parking lot of sand and gravel with faint weathered lines that may have once designated spots. There is the path going forward that leads up and elsewhere, but it is roped off. A beat up traffic cone sits in front of it, looking a little out of place.
There’s a few other cars, parked neatly next to the spot Bryan chose near the path. The path is probably just wide accommodate a enough a car, but the rope blocking it has a sign attached: ‘NO UNAUTHORIZED VEHICLES’. Next to that, a signpost and the orange cone. While Bryan grabs the folder of paperwork from the trunk, I walk over to see what’s posted. It’s one of those wooden stands that holds a bulletin board behind two glass pane windows. There was no lock, just a stick wedged through two small rusted handles keeping the glass doors shut. The cork board protected behind it held nothing but looked like it once did. Dotted with holes from thumbtacks all over.
I look back to Bryan. He’s raising the roof on the convertible, and while doing so, he’s looking upward uncharacteristically cautious of the tree line. Then he gets back in the car and starts it.
I step forward unconsciously thinking he might just leave me here, but the car just rolls backward. Slowly and just far enough so it sits in the sun instead of the shade. That’s when Bryan throws it back into park. He checks upwards again and then gets out and shuts the door behind him.
Folder under his arm he’s spinning his car keys by two fingers as he comes over. “It’s a bit of a walk.” He nods to indicate the roped off path that lead upwards in front of us. “You gonna to be ok?”
I think he might be teasing. “Are you?” I ask back.
His eyes narrow but seconds later his expression breaks into a sardonic grin. “Hope so.”
He leads, stepping over the rope. I follow.
We go up the gravel hill, and the road leads straight, cutting through forest. We don’t walk very far until Bryan diverges off the trail and leads left into what looks like just forest. Reluctantly, I follow, having to duck under a low hanging tree bough.
It’s a trail, but barely—so narrow and in places it’s almost like the forest is trying to reclaim it and winning. I fall in behind Bryan, following as the trail starts moving downhill and then into a steep decline that looks like a small cliff made up of rocks and some protruding sharp boulders.
“Watch your step, bro.”
I trip, almost. Right when he says it. I do what he recommends and focus downward, guiding my footing carefully between the rocks and a few exposed tree roots.
Ahead of me, Bryan jumps down between boulders with ease, a little reminiscent of a mountain goat. He looks back a few times to wait for me to catch up before too much distance forms between us.
And before I know it, the trail flattens out and there’s a break in the trees ahead. The break leads to the end of another gravel road like the one we were on first. I realize it is probably connected to the first path we took, maybe forming a loop around until ending up here. Looking back to the smaller trail, I’m a little more appreciative that it was a shortcut.
There is a large red cabin up ahead with a wood ramp leading up to a small porch out front, the sign reading ‘Medical’.
Behind the cabin the forest is thinner, and I realize it must slope downward too and I can almost, almost spot something blue beyond the tangle—maybe a lake, but I couldn’t be sure.
I walk forward, but Bryan doesn’t. Turning back, I realize I had walked right past his destination.
The rusted plaque bolted to the front this much smaller and run-down building, if one could call it that, reads ‘The Professional Building – Main Office’ though it didn’t look professional at all or anything relating to an office.
It reminds me instead of a shed or a dilapidated trailer and it is too tiny to be anything more than one room. It had once been painted forest green, but the places where the paint is chipping indicates that must have been very long ago. The foundation is just cement blocks and looking upwards I see debris and moss on the roof. Despite its bad appearance the outside grounds around seemed well tended. In front of the little building, facing the road, there is a small shallow garden plot outlined by carefully laid bricks. A mix of wildflowers grew in the spot, free from the shade cast off by the tree line, they grow vigorously. A water can sits beside it.
Bryan simply goes up the set of stairs of the ‘office’ and pulls open the screen door. The entire thing seems to shake when the screen door swings shut behind him catching it with the back of his heel before it can bounce a second time. A moment later he comes back out, his folder of forms still in hand. “They aren’t there.”
I look back to the other cabin. All the lights seem to be off there too. Bryan jogs over and tries to pull open the door which does not open for him. He presses what is probably a doorbell but that doesn’t lead to anything either.
He walks back over to me and pulls his phone out of his pocket. His good mood evaporated, and he looks nervous.
“Maybe they are out to lunch?” I ask.
“Maybe.” He says, just looking at his phone screen. But then, realization strikes his face and he smiles. He goes back over to the office but doesn’t go inside again or pull open the screen door. Instead, he opens up a metal box that sits attached to the building near the door and pulls out a corded phone from it. He dials something which sets off a series of rings that sounds like an antiquated intercom. After a few series of this, Bryan presses the phone to his ear. “Hey, it’s… Ohh, I thought you meant noon. Sorry, I must have read it wrong… Yeah, everything is filled out… cool… Sure! Be there in a few—but I have my brother with me, is that ok… awesome. See you soon” He hangs up, grinning brightly. He strolls back over to me, a new pep in step. To me he says, “Still up for another walk?”
Being along for the ride is something I’m not used to. But maybe it’s the fresh air or this new place. Maybe even Bryan today, his lighter mood helping to buoy everything. On the way down the hill, Bryan explains, “They are working on setting up the ropes courses for the summer. Houston said to stop by in the afternoon but I read it as noon. Oops.”
He actually said that. Oops. I reign in any sign of amusement I find from this. I walk beside him, the road we are on is the gravel one and much more bearable than the barely trail.
Tall deciduous trees make up this side of the forest growing amongst exposed rock forms that look buried in the slopes. There isn’t much else to see, besides forest and forest but every here and there along the trail there are paths, small like the shortcut we took down the mountain that lead elsewhere.
Bryan stops and indicates one of them. “Look,” Looking down I spot a small clearing at the end of the diverging path. A rock circle sits in the middle of it and flat wood platforms with bare wood beams. “They didn’t set up all the tent units with the canvas covers yet.” Bryan explains. “The poles there—they get fixed to that and it’s holds everything up. It’s a pain in the pass—glad I won’t have to help them with that though.”
I nod, trying to imagine it but swiftly fail to. I’ve never been camping.
We keep walking, cresting a little incline in the main path that sweeps down again.
“This is the dinning hall,” he points out to a building on the bottom of a hill. It seems insignificant at first with the trees obscuring. But halfway down the hill I start to see it. It’s built of wood and it’s huge compared to the rest of the buildings here. It is one story so sits flat and sprawling, seemingly in quarters with one entrance we walk past.
Bryan presses a hand and his face to one of the screened windows to look in. I can partially see some of what’s inside—an open space, stacked chairs and tables.
We keep walking.
“Thanks for coming with me.” Bryan says, randomly. He’s looking straight ahead purposefully but I believe, somehow, he’s being honest with this.
“No problem.” I say, and then “So, is this just like a summer job?”
“It’s my favorite place. I’ve wanted to be a counselor for like—forever. Last year I was a counselor in training, and now I’m finally old enough to be a junior counselor.” He says, more serious than I thought the answer merited.
We walk in silence after that. Silence, but not really. The forest isn’t quiet around us. Birds trill in the trees and the cicadas sing their endless song here too. The shade cast from the trees is nice, because like the rest of the days it’s blazing hot. Even with the brief shower of rain last week the heatwave still is in full effect.
We approach a clearing, a large field sitting low and surrounded by an imposing tree line of pine trees. A small pavilion stands on the side of the walkway leading up to it, but there is no one under it. Boxes are strewn on the floor of the open pavilion, some open and showing supplies. Straight ahead at the end of the field is where everyone is. I can’t see their faces, its way to far across to see any details besides the colors of their clothes and bright blue helmets. Behind them a massive web of rope and suspended wood beams hang upwards looking a little like ladder to the sky. Someone from the group notices us and turns to look. Then pulls up their hands to their face and a whistle echoes across the field.
Bryan hands me the folder. “Hold this,” and suddenly bursts into a sprint across, the other figure doing the same. They meet somewhere in the middle and surprisingly it’s with a hug. The familiarity seemed too dramatic.
I walk across too, a little blinded by the direct sunlight of the field without the trees for shade. The grass is a little longer than a regular lawn and is dotted with dandelions.
When I bridge the gap, Bryan is ecstatic and still talking to the guy he ran to. Around his age and by the way they conversated a close friend. There are about four other guys station around, one attached to a rope by a harness and looking upward to one of the trees. Everyone is in helmets. In front of them is the rope climbing element. Standing closer underneath, it soars dizzyingly tall above and stretched between two trees.
The guy Bryan is speaking to notices me from over his shoulder. He’s a blond with messy hair peeking through from under the blue helmet he is wearing. He flashes a charming smile, kind of boyish and unhindered. I recognize him from somewhere and realize he may have been at Bryan’s party.
Bryan turns to me. “Ah, thanks.” He says, taking the folder.
One of the other guys who was standing closer to the climbing element comes over. “Thought you got lost.” He bellows and pats Bryan on the shoulder. I wince expecting Bryan not to handle the teasing well, but surprisingly he just makes a face and hands the other guy the folder.
“It’s all there. I think I filled everything out right.”
“I’ll be hunting you down at pre-camp if they aren’t.” The man pulls out the paperwork and glances through a few of the pages. He wears a set of thin metal framed glasses and has serious looking dark eyes. He is wearing a dark green polo shirt with a small pine tree embroidered on one side of the chest. His arms kind of challenge the seams. He looks up from the paper, eyes meeting mine curiously. “You must be the brother.” He reaches a hand forward, in greeting.
I shake his hand, and he introduces himself. “Name’s Houston. Camp Director.”
He nods. Turns back to Bryan, “We were actually just wrapping up. You missed Flip screaming the entire time down the line.”
The guy, Bryan’s friend, takes off his helmet and ruffles out his blond hair. He imitates a pouty look but I don’t get the sense he’s all that offended by this. “It only sounds like that because it’s high up. Aerodynamics and all.”
Houston laughs turns back to Bryan. “So. Repeat, would you like to zip? Everything is still setup, Indiana’s anchoring, and Jettison’s in the crow’s nest.”
“Really?” Bryan’s eyes light up. “Hell yes!” Bryan takes a helmet from one of the nearby bins of supplies. Sprays it with an aerosol can before putting it on his head. Then takes out a harness and puts it on skillfully.
I look up at the height of the two trees supporting the floating wood beams. A metal ladder leans on the right of the supporting tree leading up to metal staples studding in the bark. About 12 feet up from that was the first small wood platform. I assume this is where one would start the front facing element. But past that, at least 24 feet higher was another smaller platform but this one occupied. Two legs dangle over the edge. And behind that was the zipline, faint but there, cutting through the tree line of towering pine.
I was hesitant to cram too much into this chapter hence why it drops off a little suddenly... Next chapter which picks up where this one ends should be posting soon--2 weeks approx. I hope to keep a 2 week updating schedule thereafter. Thanks so much for all the kind words and constructive comments left on previous chapters. -RATIO