The Pines

February 27, 2009
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My neck was covered in braided sweat beads, the air was empty and dry. It felt like I was fighting for those last few breaths of air with everyone around me. The worst part was, I could not see the ground two feet in front of me. Every moment I felt like I was going to go tumbling down the side of the mountain, replaced by a small cloud of black dust at my place in line.


My shoe laces had become weighted down with dirt and untied, now whipping at my calves, making them red and itchy. This was not walking. This was not strolling. This was hardly hiking. This was a death march. The headlines could read 'forty sixth-graders marched off mountain: motives uncertain'. It was like Apocalypse Now. Right now. We didn't know where we were going, had even lost sight of the counselors, and were left with four prefects, older campers who apparently had more experience. But it seemed as if they were as worried as we were. All I could hear was words floating around about a 'lost map'. I assured myself that no self-respecting counselor would allow this to happen. But then I started to question how serious my counselors actually were. I drifted into thought, it seemed to help the time pass, help the pain go away.


Was this the rumored camp experience? Sappy hands and dirty, bad food, death marches at night and swims in a mossy black lagoon in the day? I was sorely unsatisfied. As the march carried on, I ran out of water. It was really time to talk to someone about my problems. I turned on my poorly powered green flashlight I had brought from home and walked around the side of the group towards where our 'leaders' were. Shining the light to my left, I searched row after row of ratty, sweat mopped heads until I got to the front. A prefect frantically shuffled through his backpack as he walked. I shined my light on his face to get his attention. He looked up, squinted, and shouted
something inaudible to me.


'What?' I yelled back over the chorus of complaining children. Then my ankle hit a rock and I slipped down onto an incline. I began rolling. This was it. I finally had found the edge of the mountain, and confirmed my destiny. A rocky death. I tumbled for what seemed like almost ten seconds, only to slap my face against a mucky pool of water. I pressed my hands into the dirt and stood up slowly, trying to collect my thoughts. High above I could hear my fellow inmates up on the trail, shouting, teasing, and the nervous voice of the prefect sailing through the trees, which were now defined in the moonlight. The moon was absent the entire time on the trail, shrouded behind some trees and hills, but I found myself at a small pond between two hillocks, black water visibly soaking through my clothes.


I looked outwards, towards the moon and the sky, but a noise at the other end of the pond caught my attention. I found the green flashlight, still attached to my bag with a nerdy little carabiner clip. I flicked it on and searched the shore opposite me for the source of the rustling. Then the radiant yellow eyes glinted back at me. It was a calf, a small cow strayed from the group, sipping at the pond. Behind it, the rocks sunk into a valley, which began to resonate with a rumbling noise. I had heard rumors that livestock was migrated through the hills at night to different pastures, but I had never quite been able to picture it. I could not describe this occurrence as a stampede, it wasn't violent; just a mass movement of black and white splotched beasts. They all came tumbling through the valley, shaking the surrounding pine trees which rained wet needles all around me.


'Max! Max!' a couple of prefects yelled behind me, they had climbed down a small trail to the pond. I didn't answer. They came to my side and watched as the small calf rejoined the group.





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