They were three eleven year old boys. According to plan, they laid away in their cabin until they heard their camp counsellor’s snoring. They slipped out, packs and shoes in hand. They tip-toed over the cold wet ground along the path until they came to Kaylee Kamp’s great open field. As their feet touched grass, they stopped and put on their shoes. Then they ran full tilt across the field to the mess house, wary of being seen and keeping low.
They slipped in through a side window they’d found was left open all the time, boosting each other or giving a hand so they all got in. No one guarded the kitchen, and they plundered all they could fit into their packs, and all two dared carry. The eldest climbed into the loft, having learned that afternoon that someone stored a small pup tent there. Then the boys let themselves out the door towards the lake, and struck off.
For awhile, only twenty minutes, they followed a clear trail. Once the trail had taken them a good ways from the camp, they abandoned the trail and started into the thickest part of the woods. It was hard going, but they were determined. They crawled over logs and started to climb into the hills behind Kaylee Kamp, getting a better and better view of the lake as they went. The small trailblazers reached a low ridge that reached out from Gorman’s Peak – a 2,200 foot hill – and slipped down the other side. The lake disappeared, and the camp with it.
Not long after, they found a deer trail and began to make good time. They were cheerful, a little tired, but full of talk. They chattered about the trail, and pointed out stars and planets to one another, and talked about what space travel would be like someday. They fell into a lengthy discussion about what kinds of ship fuels might be invented. They debated the hazards of ion gas vs. anti-matter, and soon found themselves talking about the mutational possibilities of the latter, and how they themselves would handle being mutated beings.
They were not scared of the dark. They didn’t get lost. They did not trip and fall. They tripped, but it was only a little stumble and they didn’t mind. They were bone tired as the stars turned a tenth of a circle above them, but they did not quarrel or argue – they were all very happy.
When the first dim signs of sunrise shone in the east, they quit. One made sandwiches, and two built the tent, and they ate in the deep quiet of the dawn as it rose. They climbed in and collapsed in their clothes, warm and exhausted.
They did not sleep long. One climbed out and tottered a little way into the woods to relieve himself. He shouted at his friends, and they came out to do the same, each in his own direction. One by one they came back, and decided scientifically that it was just after nine. They would have been missed for two hours.
They ate quickly and packed their camp and started off again, running a little, filled with energy despite their little sleep. They laughed about being free from Chuckhead, or Mr. Chuck the counsellor, who had made their lives a living hell for nine days. They made guesses about how Chuckhead reacted when he found their bunks empty, and they mocked him and enjoyed that enthusiastically. They talked about the camp exploding, and wondered about the Mounties arriving, and who else might get called, and how long it would take before they began searching the woods and not the roads. They predicted their distance from Kaylee Kamp, and how much farther they’d be in an hour, and how much farther in three hours.
They did not see any animals. They did not get into any danger. The deer path changed direction and they abandoned it. They found their way blocked by creeks and rock falls and drops and they sprang or tottered or scrambled over each with ease. The day got very warm and they found a cool place by a pool, where the sky was blocked out by poplars and one big spruce. The ground was covered with grass and they saw little daddy-long-legs spiders that didn’t scare them. They spread out their coats and slept. They ate again, and nodded sagely that they couldn’t start a fire until it was dark and the smoke wouldn’t be seen. The forest made sounds around them and they laid and listened to the water tumbling into the pool. They felt it was the best time of their lives. They made fun of the other counsellors, and talked about how they hated their parents for sending them to Kaylee Kamp, and what they thought they would do someday when they were grown up and they didn’t have to go to bed when they were told.
The sun had gone far to the west when they started off again, tired now, but game for a few climbs, until they came to a high spur on the back side of Gorman’s Peak. They found a little crevice in the rocks, and cleared away some ground near a copse of fir trees. They used a small knife that one boy had smuggled into the camp, and had been able to keep secret from Chuckhead. They cut branches and covered the tent. They didn’t injure themselves. They got a couple of splinters, but they picked them out. They got a few cuts that bled a few drops, but they washed them in the stream that went nearby. As the sun began to set they slipped into a deep sleep, without talking. Hours and hours passed, and each rose in the night to pee into the night, eyes heavenward as they listened to the spattering sound they made on the rock.
That morning they remarked about how empty the woods were, and how they didn’t see a single thing. They talked about how there were no movie monsters in the woods, no hermits in cabins and no zombie graveyards. It was all trees and rocks, with streams and thousands of little insects. They were the only beings in this wide world.
They broke their rule and made a little fire, but there was not very much smoke and they only kept it long enough to cook the hotdogs they’d taken from the mess. They kicked it out and poured water over it from the stream and made sure it was dead by putting their hands into the ash. No fire started. It was really out.
They started to wonder where they were going, and decided they would pick one place and wait for all the people who were searching for them to find them. They agreed that if it didn’t happen in a week, they’d walk back the way they came. They could see Gorman’s Peak. They knew how to get back.
It began to rain a bit, but they all had slickers with them, because the camp insisted that every boy be ready for rain. They walked a bit and waited a bit under an overhang, and the rain stopped soon. The sun came out and it was dry. The boys were fine. They didn’t get sniffley noses.
It all ended when they came down an embankment and found themselves on a road. A Mountie was sitting on the hood of his car. The car had overheated and his partner had climbed down the other side of the road with a pop bottle to get water for the radiator. The Mountie was drinking a root beer, and didn’t see the boys. But as the three turned to climb up again, the scree shifted and the Mountie saw them.
There was a lot of shouting and excitement and people asking questions. There were examinations and tests and the boys were all poked and prodded and hurt in the interest of making sure they were all right. Then there came the angry parents, the angry questions, the concealed fear, the threats and, in the course of things, the long, sustained punishment.
And twenty years later the last part of the episode was all forgotten. It drained away into the distance of time like all unimportant things must. What remained was the distilled memory of two wonderful, unmatchable days, when three boys truly lived for the first time.