The fish was being grilled, sending a good smell up into the air. It wasn’t exactly an enthusiastic festival. We smiled and laughed, and we seemed to try to cover up the fact that things has went really wrong. It had been hours since we had reached the camp that morning. Why aren’t the others back to the camp? Why did they leave in the first place? Where did they go? Are they coming back? Why didn’t they even leave a note? There were a ton of questions, but everyone evaded them, not asking any questions.
Isaac seemed to be the most concerned. He barely spoke, and the only words I recall hearing from him before we started grilling the fish was “pass me the plate”. Toby was at his normal self, laughing, joking and smiling, as if he was at a camping trip and nothing weird was happening. Sophie, Anne and I tried to make ourselves as natural as possible, and to try to look lighthearted like Toby was, but I couldn’t get the concern out, and I could see hints of it in the eyes of Anne and Sophie. Where was the rest of the class?
Toby chewed on the fish, his face delighted. “This is good.” he said. We’d found salt in the camp, and we’d grilled the fish over the fire. It’d been a bit hard to start the fire, as we didn’t find the matches at first, but then we found them hidden in a cabin. “You know, I think I could live like this forever. Go out, get food, come back, eat. It’s a simple life.”
So far, no one had wanted to bring up the topic of the class. I decided to bring it up, as we had to discuss it anyway, at some point.
“Do we follow through with our plan?” I asked, munching on the fish. Toby was right. It was good.
“I guess.” Toby said, not actually caring much. He was more interested in the fish. Isaac chewed on silently. His face was visibly distressed. The eyes behind the glasses were not happy.
“If we do follow through, we need more fish.” Anne said. “There aren’t any fruits around this area. The trees only grow leaves.”
“Obviously.” Sophie said. “Trees grow leaves. Anyone would know that.”
“Is this the time for sarcasm?” I asked. Sophie could be irritating when she wanted to be.
“Anyway,” Anne said, “we need to go the river and…”
“Again?” Toby interjected. “It’s a long walk from here.”
“Then find me another way to get food.” Isaac snapped suddenly. “Don’t whine like a kid.”
Toby looked like he might argue, but with Isaac in that mood, he knew better than to resist. We sat in silence for a while, the outside mood ruined, giving way for our real feelings to penetrate out. The situation was bad. There was no good in covering it up.
“I’ll go again.” Toby said. He looked at me. “You want to come too, tomorrow?” I nodded.
“I’m so much use, right?”
Toby chuckled. “Of course!”
“Why are you guys so cheerful?” Isaac asked. “We’re left alone in the middle of the forest, miles of woods which we don’t know. It’s not going to be easy to get out.”
We then sat in silence for a while more. It seems like there wasn’t much to talk about. With the exception of Toby and Sophie, the members of the group were never close friends at school. Even Toby and Sophie didn’t seem to talk with each other much.
Isaac was the first to leave the table. Not long after, Anne followed, then Toby, and then Sophie. Nobody exchanged words. I was left sitting alone on the table. I decided to leave, as the mosquitoes were becoming irritating. I walked to the cabin and into the room that I had chosen from three days before. It now seemed to be a distant time away.
When I got to the bed, I realized that I hadn’t stopped to rest at all since waking up earlier today to walk back to the camp. I’d basically walked the whole day, and the only other thing I did was trying to catch fish. I was very tired.. When I lied down to the bed, exhaustion hit me like a tidal wave, and I was suddenly nearly paralyzed. Other things in mind had seemed to make me numb to how tired I was, but now it came and I couldn’t do anything more. I closed my eyes, waiting for sleep to swiftly come.
* * *
The next two days continued uneventfully. Toby and I set off to the river on the next day, but we’d learned lessons from the previous day and brought spare clothing and bags. Everything went pretty much like the first day at the abandoned camp.
The atmosphere was grim at the end of the third day. The class still hadn’t returned back to the camp. Isaac had only spoken about three sentences in the past two days, and the fake cheerfulness of the first night had disappeared. Sophie and Toby were talking together quietly about something when I joined the table. Anne was staring into the dark, and Isaac’s face was unreadable. My hopes were high that we’d have something other than fish to eat.
“So, what do we have for dinner today?”
“Fish.” Anne said. “Again. Sophie and I still didn’t find any fruits at all today.” My hopes went crashing down a mind trench.
“Really?” I tried again. Down, but not out.
“Really.” Shoot. Down, and out.
Except for Toby and Sophie who were still whispering things with each other, the group was silent.
“Well,” I tried to start the conversation, “we leave tomorrow.”
“I wasn’t looking forward to it.” Anne replied. “It’s a long walk to town.”
“How deep is this camp into the national park?”
Anne reached to her bag, and pulled out a folded map. She unfolded it slowly and laid it out on the table. Isaac had looked up, and Toby and Sophie were now paying attention.
“We’re around 12 kilometers in.” she said. “It’s going to take us more than a few hours, because there are parts where the road goes uphill, and it’ll take effort to walk up. Then, it’s a couple more kilometers to the nearest town.”
“I see.” I said. “But at the entrance of the national park, we could just report to them and ask to be taken to town by car.”
“True.” Anne finished eating her fish, her face showing that she was deep in thought. “But…”
“Anne,” Toby interjected. “You spoke very little at school. And now you’re suddenly leading us? Wow. You’ve changed.” Sophie clapped, and so I joined in.
“Shut up,” Anne muttered, although Toby, who was sitting farther away, couldn’t hear. She simply went on. “But we have to make sure we have enough supplies. This area of the national park wouldn’t have too many cars passing through, so we can’t really hope to hitch a ride or something.”
“Okay, so do we have them?” I asked.
“I’ll check.” Toby said. He ran back to our cabin, then shouted back a reply of “yeah we do!”
“Then we set off tomorrow.” Anne concluded. “Sleep well.”
* * * * *
The trek back to town started late. Anne insisted that we had a lot of rest, so that we had the energy to walk. However, the last of the bread had gone moldy, so we had to walk with empty stomachs. Toby had complained a lot about that, but Isaac shot him the Isaac-style shut-up-or-die eyes and Toby knew better than to continue whining.
A food-less tummy was a great spine in the skin. The way was still pretty flat for the first half hour, but then the land started sloping upwards, and I really yearned to have some more fuel. It was a painful walk. Toby and Sophie were chattering away, while Isaac still kept his saturnine temperament. Again, Anne was the only person to talk to.
“Hey Anne.” I said, starting the conversation.
“You’re actually a pretty good plan-maker.” I said. I didn’t know what to say. Anne and I had never been close friends.
Anne laughed. “Well, I’d thought I could leave it to Isaac.” She spoke quietly, so that Isaac wouldn’t hear and turn even more bitter-tempered. “But since he can’t even take a situation like this, and, well, we know about Toby and Sophie.” She then looked at me quizzically. “I heard you like writing. Writers have to make plans. So you should be able to do it.”
Writers making plans. Yes, she got that right. But the last time I checked, writers planned plots and stuff, not survival, and I told her so.
“Well, you better help me out with the plans next time. I don’t plan at all, whether it be plots or whatever.”
“What’s your hobby then?” I inquired.
Anne thought for a moment. “I don’t really know.” she said. “I like taking pictures and I like travelling. Does that make me a photographer or a traveller?”
“Both?” I suggested.
Anne laughed. “Maybe.”
I said in a softer voice, “what about Isaac?”
“His hobby is probably something about quantum physics..” Anne muttered. I laughed.
Ahead, Toby and Sophie had stopped chattering. There was probably only so much to talk about. Isaac was in the lead. We walked on for about an hour or so, with only the brief question-and-answer conversation. I didn’t speak because there wasn’t anyone to talk about, and I wanted to conserve energy.
The woods around me were dark green, and just stepping out of the road would have be stepping into wilderness. Now I appreciated the start of civilization. Who’d have thought they could have cleared all of this wilderness and build cities? It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.
After around an hour we stopped for a rest. It was strange how so far there were no cars. If this was how popular the national park was for tourism, I wonder why the school ever chose it for a residential field trip. Toby drank a bit of water and spoke my thoughts out loud, as if he was reading my mind.
“Maybe there’s some something blocking the road. Like, a tree fell down or something. And they haven’t took it out.” Sophie suggested.
“Not possible.” I said. “I’m sure they would take it out. And I haven’t seen a car pass us by for days.”
“The national park is closed?” Anne suggested.
“With people still inside? No way.” Toby said.
No one had any idea. The only thing we could do is to wait until we were at the gates of the national park.
We resumed walking after about ten minutes of rest. We probably did around 4 kilometers of walking during the last hour, and if we walked on for two hours straight, that should get us to the entrance of the national park. The next hour of walking made me realize that my trainers were somehow uncomfortable for walking. I really wanted a bicycle. Only if one could appear magically. If I had special powers, I’d have casted some sort of spell and made a divine jet plane appear out of nowhere, and I’d ride it right back to home.
By the time we neared the gate, the rays of sunlight had turned golden.