..........The first day of school is difficult
at best. Kimberly Hart looked at the front door of Angel Grove High and
felt a tingle of fear at the base of her spine. It wasn't that she didn't
like school, she did in a lackadaisical way. School was a place to meet
with friends, hang around, and maybe pick up a few answers to Trivial Pursuit.
At least, that was how junior high worked. Now, though, she wondered if
she was ready.
..........Her first class of the day was fortunately the easiest. All incoming freshmen had to take Experiential Experience. It was, her older brother had told her, the last hold out of the sixties in Angel Grove. It goes something like this, he had said. You fill out a form at the end of ninth grade listing all of your interests. The high school looks it over, and when you come in as a freshman, they put you in a class according to interests. Not, he warned, that anyone will have anything in common. They mix up different people into different groups so that we can all learn from each other. He then snorted in disgust.
..........Kimberly thought it was lame. Basically, all a kid had to do was show up for all the classes and the required weekend retreat. It was an easy A. She wasn't the type to skip class and how bad could a camping trip with some classmates be? It couldn't be that bad... hopefully her class wouldn't be filled with jerks.
..........The classroom was almost empty. Her hopes that her classmates would be cool were dashed when she got a look at the kid sitting in the corner. Dorky glasses, dorky clothes, evidently one of the geeks in training. He was actually reading a book, and school hadn't even started yet.... a grind. Kimberly sighed. The pathetic thing was that she sorta knew the guy. At least, she thought she did. We hung around in grade school I think, she thought as she took a seat. Bobby... Barry... something like that. I thought he was a grade behind. She shook her head. It didn't really matter. She had no intention of associating with the twit crowd in high school. She was going to be popular.
..........Still, it wouldn't hurt to be friendly. Geeks occasionally had popular friends. She kinda doubted it in this case but, hey, ya never know. "Hello."
..........The kid looked at her. He waved a little, obviously uncomfortable, and blushed. He turned back to his book, turning an amusing shade of purple as Kimberly watched. She shook her head. Definitely a twit. Maybe the other kids in the class would be cool.
..........The door swung open. Kim sighed again. She sorta knew this guy too. One of the weird karate jocks that the Angel Grove school system had in overabundance. This one wasn't bad looking, a little more muscular than what she preferred, but not bad at all. She wasn't into brunettes either, but he had a sort of look about him... an aura of confidence maybe. She chalked him up as a possible.
..........Jason noted the pink adorned girl looking him over. One of the popular types... probably planning to join the gymnastics team. They all had that perky Molly Ringwald thing going. The pink accessories, the lean, flexible body... he knew the type. They seldom went for his type. They preferred the more organized sport types. Football players. Maybe a baseball player if the season went well. Besides, he liked a girl that knew something, not just a mall clone. Still, Experiential Experience was looking pretty crummy if this was all that got coughed up in the class. He wasn't looking forward to camping with someone that looked like they were lost without a blow dryer.
..........And the guy in the corner... ha! Another waste of flesh. He looked like he'd break under the weight of a backpack. A string thin, four-eyed wimp. Jason wondered if any of the kids in the class would be interesting or at least tolerable. So far, it didn't look good.
..........He perked up when the next student entered. It was Zack Taylor. He knew Zack. They didn't have much in common, but Zack was pretty cool. Zack gave him a smile and began dancing to the music playing on his headphones. He danced around the room, clearly enjoying himself. Jason smiled. If nothing else, Zack was a fun guy.
..........As Zack pranced about, Billy watched with envy. It was so easy for Zack. He could just walk into a room and people smiled. Billy sighed heavily. He hadn't even been able to say hi to Kimberly, and he sorta knew her. He'd been too awed by the fact that she actually acknowledged him. Most people, girls in particular, ignored him, or worse, made fun of him. He preferred to be ignored. It was easier. One less thing to worry about.
..........He knew Zack from junior high. He had tutored Zack in math all last year. Not fun, for either of them, Billy not liking social interaction, and Zack not liking math, but Zack had passed. He was one of the few people Billy considered a friend, and it was nice to know someone in the class.
..........On a dancing pass, Zack caught sight of him. "Hey! Billy! My main brain!" Zack grabbed a seat next to Billy. "Experiential Experience is gonna be a blast! High school is nothing! Nothing!" He playfully punched the other boy's arm, and watched as Billy smiled and turned red from the attention. Zack smiled even more.
..........The truth was that Zack genuinely liked Billy. A lot of Zack's other friends had ragged on him hard about having to be tutored, and his first two tutors had been overbearing snobs who acted as though he was some sort of idiot, but Billy had been real cool. No stupid cracks, no retard jokes. Maybe some sympathy, but Zack didn't think it was meant in an insulting way... Billy had been honestly disturbed that he didn't grasp a lot of concepts. No condescension, no rude remarks about Zack's lack of math wits, just a lot of time and drilling. He knew he wouldn't have passed without it.
..........Billy's problem, Zack had realized over the summer, was his complete inability to deal with people. Zack didn't really understand it, having always enjoyed being the center of attention, but after a little thought, he realized that Billy just expected people to be mean to him. It was a pretty easy assumption to make, really. As a black student in a predominately white school system, Zack was no stranger to the idea of being "the different one." Billy's intelligence, like Zack's skin color, set him apart, only Billy had never figured out how to cope. Zack planned to change that. After all, he owed the guy.
.........."You know, I ended up with a B in algebra." Zack said brightly. "And I got on A on that paper. Remember? The one about how math and music are related?"
..........Billy nodded. He wished Zack would shut up. The other two kids were staring at them.
.........."What do you mean?" Jason stepped over. He was starting to reassess the situation. It might be handy to know one of the smart crowd... even if he did look wimpy. "They're related?"
.........."Yeah." Zack slapped Billy on the back. "Billy here knows everything!" Billy blushed even more. "He's gonna coast through school, right Billy?"
..........Billy had no idea what to say. "No... uh...."
.........."Come on," Zack said. "You were always on the high honor roll.... Hey, I bet you're bumped up a grade by the end of the year."
.........."Hey, wait a minute," Jason's memory kicked in. "You're that guy that was skipped into our class last year aren't you?" He looked closer. "Boy, you got tall over the summer. I didn't recognize you at first. Man, do you really think you can skip another grade?"
..........Billy shook his head. "It wasn't one of my parents better thought out decisions. They thought it would be beneficial on my behalf but unfortunately, the results have been mixed at best."
.........."What?" asked Kimberly. She had been following along up until that point. Both Jason and Zack shrugged. They hadn't quite followed either.
.........."He said his parents thought it was a good idea, but he isn't so sure." All four teens turned as one to see the newcomer. It was a pretty Asian girl, wearing a yellow shirt and looking a little nervous. "I was looking for the Experiential Experience class... is this it?"
..........Trini hated new schools. This was the third one in as many years and it never got any easier. The kids would all stare at her, like the way these four were now. She could almost hear them making judgments about her. They probably knew each other from kindergarten. Knowing her luck, they were all best friends, having somehow figured out a way around the weird requirements of Experiential Experience.
..........Before she had a chance to say anything else, the teacher entered the room. He looked around, obviously counting up the students and shooed Trini to a seat. It was a little disappointing to Trini. Not only had she hoped to get to know some of the kids but the teacher hardly looked the part of the adventurous nature of the class. He was very overweight, and huffing from apparently the exertion of walking to class. What a joy, she thought as she sat next to the other girl. And I was hoping that this would be a cool class.
.........."Well, we're all here so why don't we get started?" The teacher smiled. "I am Mr. Kirkland and this is Experiential Experience. Now, I'm sure you've all heard things about this class, but I run this show a little differently than most." Kirkland eased down into a chair. "Frankly, I think this whole idea is a crock. There's nothing we teachers can do to make you kids be friends for the rest of your high school years. In my twenty years of teaching this class, I've never had a class bond. Personally, I think it's because our experience is lame. A simple camping trip does not bring out the kind of emotional situations that cause a group to come together. But, since I hold little influence with the school board, this class remains despite it's dubious benefits."
.........."I do not teach in this class," Kirkland continued as the five students watched in shock, "There is nothing to teach. There will be no homework. This time can be used as a study hall. As for our required camping trip, that will be this weekend. As it is Labor day weekend, we will leave here Friday afternoon and return Monday evening." He threw some papers at Trini. "Those are permission slips that must be signed and a list of suggested items. Suggested, not required, though be warned that I have no sympathy for forgetfulness. Any questions?"
..........Jason hesitantly raised his hand. "Where are we going?"
..........Kirkland sighed. "Does it really matter?"
..........Friday afternoon found five teenagers sitting submissively on dufflebags and backpacks on the front steps of Angel Grove High. They were depressed. After three days of tenth grade, a field trip to some desolate wilderness with people they barely knew pleased none of the kids. They looked at each other, for the most part thinking vile thoughts.
..........I hate this school, thought Trini. No one is very friendly, my classes are all screwed up because my other school didn't send my transcript and I have this stupid trip to go on. She would've preferred to stay at home and unpack her things. Currently, Trini was living out of suitcases and everything else, from her paperback books to her doll collection was in packing boxes.
..........Kimberly was thinking along those lines as well. All my friends are going to the mall this weekend, there's going to be mondo sales on 'cause of the holiday, and where will I be? Communing with the forest spirits out in who knows where! She looked at all the clunky gear her older brother had packed for her. She didn't even know what to do with most of it.
..........She wanted to stay at home. Things hadn't been so hot lately between her parents. The night before last, she'd heard them arguing and her father had said it... divorce. He left for a hotel that night and while he came home for meals, it was pretty clear that he and Mom were just trying to iron out the final details of it. Kim shuddered as she thought about it. She didn't want them to get divorced. If she could stay at the house instead of going on the trip, she could maybe get them to patch things up. She saw Billy looking at her and scowled at him.
..........Billy looked away quickly. He blushed. She obviously didn't like him. It hurt, but he'd gotten used to it over the years. Still, the trip was starting to look like even more torture than he'd originally figured.
..........Billy was dreading the camping trip for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was his genuine dislike of the outdoors. Oh, it was pretty enough, and he definitely understood why other people enjoyed camping, but bad luck seemed to plague him in the wilderness. During a couple of disastrous Cub Scout trips he had managed to burn himself with marshmallows, destroy tents accidentally and on one memorable occasion, he actually broke his arm after tripping over a stick. He had, as Jason had pointed out, grown about six inches over the summer, and tasks such as walking over rough terrain, which had been manageable at 5'4 were now next to impossible. He had tripped while using the stairs at school. He really couldn't imagine what the woods would be like. Everyone would laugh at him, even Zack.
..........Jason stood and stretched. Camping, while not his cup of tea, was not really that bad either. He was missing a karate class but hey... he could make it up. Maybe he could impress the girls while he was out there. Kimberly was a little flighty for his tastes, but she was pretty. And Trini the new girl was not exactly hard on the eyes either. She seemed a bit serious, but cool. If anything at all, Jason was just a bit concerned about a test in math class on Tuesday. There would not likely be a lot of study time on the trip, and math was not his best subject. He bent over, stretched his calves and eyed the tall geek. Maybe I can get him to give me a hand, he thought to himself. And if not, its just one test. No problem.
..........Zack listened to his headphones and tapped his feet to the music. He wasn't thinking about the trip at all. He was thinking of Angela. Angela was a girl in his history class. He was stunned by her beauty. He had watched her from afar for the last three days, and he was in love. He didn't care about the trip, he didn't even know what he'd packed. Zack was far away, planning his and Angela's life together. The trip was nothing but an annoyance to him.
..........Kirkland drove up in a van. "Everyone get in," he growled. "And I don't want to hear any whining either."
..........Three hours later, the van stopped. The kids piled out, and looked at the surroundings. They were impressed. They were on a cliff overhanging a glacial valley. The Sierra Nevadas rose off in the distance, and at the edge of the clearing was a tall stand of forest.
.........."Cool," said Jason.
.........."Magnificent." agreed Billy. Zack, Trini and Kimberly nodded, too awed to add any words.
.........."Get your crap out of the van." snapped Kirkland. "I'll be sleeping in the van. Your shelter, or lack thereof, is entirely up to you."
..........They grabbed their things and set up their tents in the waning light. No one talked. Kirkland eased back into the car seat and watched the sun set. From his position, he could look almost straight down into the valley. He took a deep breath. Kirkland, like the kids, was not enthralled with camping in general, and camping that weekend in particular. His doctor had suggested either losing weight or stopping the strenuous exercise and he was feeling the heart palpitations that evening. He opened the glove to get his heart medication when suddenly he felt a massive crushing pressure on his chest. As the sun set below the valley, Kirkland closed his eyes and died.
..........Morning found the campsite in a complete disarray. Kimberly crawled out of her sleeping bag and looked at her watch. It was 6 am. She knew she'd never get back to sleep so she grudgingly dressed and got out of the lopsided tent.
..........The sunrise took her breath away. She walked over to the edge of the cliff and stood, watching the colorful display. After a few minutes though, she noticed the chill in the air. Maybe, she thought, I should grab a jacket. Her stomach growled. And some breakfast.
..........She saw that Billy had crawled out of his tent. She hated to admit it, but his geodesic dome tent looked far cooler, and more importantly, far more comfortable than her Army surplus pup tent. He was clad more appropriately too, with warm looking jeans and a blue hooded sweatshirt. A surprisingly okay outfit... she had already realized that her classmate was fashion impaired... but then, he was warm, and she was not. She shivered as she looked through her clothes. After pawing through various shirts and shorts, she realized that there was no warm clothing in her bag. She sighed and threw a towel over her shoulders. It's better than nothing, she thought as she grabbed her Kellogg's frosted flakes, boxed milk, and bowl.
..........Billy had evidently had the same thoughts about breakfast. Kimberly watched as he carefully opened a bag of sliced bread. Next, to her disgust, he opened a jar of marshmallow fluff, spread it liberally on the bread, and topped the mess off with Hershey chocolate syrup and some M&M's.
.........."Are you sure you're getting enough sugar?" Kimberly couldn't help it. Aside from her usual annoyance with Billy, the fact that he actually could eat that much sugar and not gain any weight irritated her. "Do your parents realize what you eat?"
..........Billy looked at his sandwich. "This is what Dad usually makes for breakfast."
.........."Well, doesn't your mom care? I mean, that's not very nutritious." As Billy's face darkened, Kimberly sensed that she had somehow touched a sore point.
.........."If she were around, then yes, I imagine it would concern her, but she's not." Billy glared at her, and then returned to munching his breakfast.
..........Yes, thought Kimberly, this definitely calls for a change of subject. She felt bad, actually. Her own family situation wasn't too hot either, and for all she knew, it would soon be her eating poorly because her father didn't know any better. She fixed her cereal in silence, wondering what to say. "It's awfully cold this morning." She shivered again, almost dropping her breakfast.
..........Billy noted that as he licked the chocolate off his fingers. "I have a jacket you could borrow." He surprised himself with the offer. In school, such an offer usually earned him teasing and on occasion, a fist or two from a boyfriend. And Kimberly certainly had never been friendly. Still, he considered, it is cold.
.........."Really? Could I?" He got the jacket, a light blue windbreaker, and she threw it on gratefully. She hugged her arms around her chest, and slowly warmed up. She finished the cereal and looked at the bowl. "I don't suppose there's a sink around here?" She knew the answer even before he shook his head. "Lovely... nature is such a joy."
.........."I was going to see if there was perhaps a fluvial source of H2O." Billy said helpfully.
.........."He said," muttered Trini as she crawled out from her rather old and flimsy Smurf tent, "that he was going to look for a stream." It is too early to deal with this, she thought grumpily. Trini was never at her best right after waking. She grumbled to herself as she started her morning stretches.
.........."Oh." Kimberly considered. She wanted to brush her teeth, wash up, and various other functions that involved water. Plus, who knows what was crawling around the woods. "I'll go with you then. Maybe we should wake Mr. Kirkland and let him know."
..........Jason crawled out from under his hastily built pine bow and tarp shelter. "Why wake him... he'll just be in a bad mood. Brrr... it's cold." He grabbed a red sweatshirt out of his bag as he spoke. "The longer he sleeps the better." Jason walked over to the van and peered in the window. Kirkland was sprawled across the front seat. "He's out like a light." he called to the others. "Go ahead, we'll let him know where you went."
..........It was twenty minutes before they found a stream, and Billy sighed with relief when they finally found a stream flowing from a cave opening. He'd fallen well over ten times, tripping over stones, logs and assorted forest things. While Kimberly hadn't actually made fun, he could tell she was getting irritated, which made him more nervous and more likely to fall.
..........Kimberly really didn't care how often Billy fell or what he fell over, she just wanted to wash up. Her irritation had nothing to do with her klutzy companion's agility, she was in a hurry and he was slowing her up. She fell to her knees by the water, and got busy with personal hygiene. Billy did likewise, until he noticed a group of birds flocking out of the trees.
.........."That's unusual avian behavior for this time period." he said to Kimberly. He opened his knapsack and pulled out a bird guide. "Normally, group flocking doesn't occur until evening with that species."
.........."What are you talking about?" Kimberly asked. Before he could answer, the ground shook violently, and they plunged ten feet down into the ground.
..........Jason warmed up with a kata. It was a fairly showy one, with lots of high kicks. Not his usual warm-up but Zack had asked to see one of the cooler routines. Jason was hoping to convert Zack over to karate and anyhow it was fun to do.
..........He was trying to make the best of things, after all. The trip was dull so far and there was no real hope of it improving anytime soon. Practicing made him feel better, and it passed the time His appetite was tremendous by the time he finished, and as he made a meal of power bars, he found himself watching the new girl with interest.
..........She had been stretching while he was performing for Zack, and grabbed the clearing as soon as he was done. As he watched, she went through a slow, graceful kata. Slow, but definitely powerful. She was like a graceful cat, getting ready to pounce. It took his breath away.
.........."Wow, you're good, Trini." he said as she finished. "Is that T'ai Chi or some style of kung fu?"
..........She smiled shyly. "Kung fu... and you aren't that bad at Shotokan karate either. Do you have your black belt?" Trini was better for having had some exercise. She dug an apple out of her bag and wondered if maybe, just maybe, she might get to know someone.
.........."I just earned my third degree in black." Jason said proudly. "But what you did... you aren't a beginner either."
.........."You both were awesome!" Zack was stunned by their performances. Jason had impressed him and Trini had converted him completely. "It was like watching figure skating. I wish I could do that."
.........."Well," said Jason, moving in for the kill, "I do teach at the youth center. You could take the class."
.........."Me too," added Trini. She liked Jason, and Zack seemed like a pretty nice guy. While they weren't forming "the bond" that her guidance counselor had insisted was the most important part of Experiential Experience, she hoped that she had made some friends.
..........Jason smiled at her. He could learn a thing or two from her, that was for sure, but he didn't want to get too chummy too quickly. Still, she was cool, and his circle of acquaintances was not as large as people thought. Jason was, oddly enough, a lot more private than most gave him credit for. The truth was that it wasn't really the trip that bugged him, it was not knowing the people he was with. Oh, sure, he liked Zack well enough, but that wasn't the same as knowing him. Trini was new, and this was really the first time they'd spoken. He remembered Kimberly from grade school, vaguely anyhow, and she was okay... but not someone he knew. Billy seemed all right, if maybe even more private than himself, but that meant they'd probably never get to know each other. Jason wanted a close circle of friends... but it always seemed to elude him.
.........."Hey," he said, wanting to change the topic, "Kimberly and Billy have been gone a long time." He was a little concerned. Neither classmate seemed well equipped to deal with nature.
.........."Yeah." agreed Zack. "Maybe we should check on them." Jason and Trini nodded.
.........."I really think," Trini began, "that we should wake Mr. Kirkland and let him know where we're going." She hated being the responsible one sometimes. Jason and Zack nodded. They all went over to the van and opened the door.
..........Kirkland was lying in the same position, sprawled across the front seat, grabbing for his pills. His eyes were open, his tongue was protruding. It was pretty obvious he was dead.
.........."Aigh!!!!!" They all shrieked, slammed the door and ran back to the tents. They felt dirty and shocked and, though no one would admit it, afraid.
.........."Oh, jeez, what are we gonna do?" asked Zack. He hopped from foot to foot with tension.
.........."When do you suppose he died?" Trini didn't know what else to say.
.........."I don't know." said Jason tensely. He felt out of control. "We need to find Billy and Kimberly and then... I guess we have to go get help."
.........."You mean, use the van? Yech...." Zack was disgusted by the thought.
..........A large flock of birds leaped into the air suddenly. They watched for a moment, a little startled but not interested, really. Then, the ground shook violently. They dove to the ground and waited for the shocks to subside.
..........Jason rose slowly and brushed off the dirt. "Are you guys okay?" he asked. They both nodded, more shaken than anything. He was not okay, he realized after a moment. His wrist was killing him. It was swelling already. Maybe it was broken... he couldn't tell. He held it gingerly, and looked around. The situation had gone from bad to worse. The cliff the van was parked on had collapsed. The van was burning about one hundred feet below in the valley.
..........Zack stood up beside him. "I guess we aren't using the van after all."
..........Kimberly opened her eyes and found a tree root inches away from her face. She screamed. Then, the last few minutes came rushing back to her. She screamed again. Earthquakes of any sort terrified her and this one was bad.
.........."Kimberly, calm down." Billy wasn't exactly calm himself, but her shrieking wasn't helping. "It was just an earthquake. The land we were on subsided about ten feet. Are you okay? Your head is bleeding."
..........She felt her forehead. Blood smeared on her fingers. "I think I'm going to be sick." She grabbed a tree root and climbed up to the top of the sinkhole, Billy close behind. Her stomach rolled and she threw up beside a tree. For about five minutes she heaved, and then shakily stepped away. She staggered over to the stream and sat down heavily, curled up in a ball. "I want to go home." She started crying.
..........Billy sat down beside her. He didn't know what to do. Finally, he awkwardly put his arm around her. It was, oddly enough, the right thing to do. She leaned on him for support as she cried and slowly, she poured out her fears. Earthquakes were first but....
.........."My parents are getting divorced." she cried softly. "I should be home, helping them... even if they don't get back together, I abandoned them this weekend. I shouldn't have come. They need me... how can they not be in love anymore...." She rattled on, grateful for a sympathetic ear. "I don't know if I can handle it."
.........."Well, it's not like they stopped loving you." Billy wasn't quite sure what to say. "I mean...you'll still get to see them.... You don't stop being their child. Maybe you just won't live with one of them but you'll get weekends and... well, it could be worse."
..........She looked at him. "Like, the reason you don't see your mom? Did the court rule against her or something?"
..........He blushed. "Kimberly, my parents aren't divorced." He paused, and looked down at the ground. "My mom... died this summer. In July. She... she had cancer. We knew... that it was only a matter of time... the chemo didn't work but...." His voice trailed off. "She used a lot of drugs for the pain and one night... I guess she took too much. My dad found her and well.... He hasn't really been able to deal with it. He's gotten really withdrawn. I really doubt it's registered with him that I'm not home." He didn't cry. He didn't cry in front of other people, and after a long, chilly summer, he'd come to the conclusion that crying solved nothing. It certainly didn't do anything in his house. "Look, your head is still bleeding." He wanted to change the subject, and she was bleeding.
..........Kimberly tossed her hair back and let Billy tie her pink bandanna across the cut. She was still reeling emotionally, and her hands were shaking. "I guess it could be worse." She paused. "...Um I kinda freaked out on you. I'm sorry." She gave him a hug. In a sudden flashing moment, it had occurred to Kimberly that not one of her popular friends would've really given a damn about her parents divorcing, and yet, this dorky guy that she had treated like dirt had been... nice. Caring. Sympathetic enough to share his own problems in order to make her feel better. And, she had to admit, he was right. It could be worse. "I'm sorry about your mom." she added delicately.
..........He waved away her words. Part of him regretted telling her anything. It would probably backfire and get thrown in his face at school. It always did. But another part of him faintly hoped that maybe underneath her shallow facade, Kimberly was nice. Maybe they could be friends. "We should get back. I'm sure the others are concerned."
.........."Oh my god, yeah." Kimberly scrambled to her feet. She still felt a little woozy, but steady enough. It occurred to her that maybe the others were having problems of their own. After all, there'd been an earthquake over thirty minutes ago, and funny, no one had come looking for them. She stepped over a rock, dislodging a rock. A rattlesnake shot out from underneath the rock. Already agitated by the earthquake, the snake dove at the nearest victim. It bit Billy on the calf.
.........."Ah!" He jumped up, the snake still attached and took a few running steps backward. "Get it off!" He fell over a log. The snake let go and slithered away, shaking its rattle as it went. Billy sat up and rolled up the cuffs of his jeans. The two puncture wounds were jagged and bleeding. Already, they were puffing up.
.........."Was that a poisonous snake?" He hoped not. They were a long way from a hospital.
.........."Yes, but don't worry. I know what to do." Kimberly did know. She taken every red cross course available. She took off her belt. "Okay... listen... I'm going to use my belt as a tourniquet." As she spoke, she wrapped it around his leg, above the bite and tightened it.
..........He winced. "Isn't this putting me at risk for necrosis and gangrene?"
.........."I can only leave it on for ten minutes." Kimberly bent over the wound. "I'm going to try to suck the poison out... as much as I can in ten minutes. You can time me." She hesitated. "You don't have any blood transmitted diseases, right?" As soon as he shook his head she began.
..........It was the most nerve wracking ten minutes of her life. Sucking poison and blood was better done with a snake bite kit, which neither had, and she was already shaky. At least once she caught herself about to swallow and almost freaked out again. But, she kept her cool. One thing that she never talked about but had always sort of known was that , excepting earthquakes, she was pretty calm in crisis.
.........."Times up." said Billy. He was pale. Blood, his blood in particular, was not settling to the nerves. Plus, he was feeling nauseous, and his leg was going numb. Kimberly undid the tourniquet and crossed her fingers.
.........."Try not to move." she suggested. He nodded, not really paying attention as he was starting to feel really ill.
.........."I'm going to be sick." he said suddenly. He twisted around the log he'd tripped over earlier and vomited. By the time he was reduced to dry heaves, Kimberly was getting concerned. When that didn't stop for ten minutes, she got worried. After twenty minutes, it did stop, leaving Billy a trembling wreck. He couldn't stop shaking and as Kim watched, he lost consciousness.
..........Even that didn't make her loose her cool. From her first aid class, she knew that people seldom died from untreated snake bites. Sure, people got really sick but, she had gotten some of the poison out. It wasn't totally untreated. She took off her borrowed jacket and draped it across the unconscious teen. Kimberly continued first aid, calming down as she did so.
..........Trini was not one to loose her cool. Earthquakes, even a fairly bad one, were not a problem. Finding the only adult in the area dead of an apparent heart attack was nasty, but she kept it together. Even watching their only transportation explode didn't faze her. But standing at the edge of the cliff, she looked down, and cringed. It was well over her usual limits for heights. She stepped away quickly, not wanting to give the guys any reason to think badly of her. It was stupid and macho, but she couldn't help it.
..........Zack and Jason kept watching the fire. It died off slowly, sending oily black smoke up into the sky. Zack took heart. Smoke equals fire, and fire equals trained firemen equipped to deal with emergencies. It was a good thing too, because he was pretty sure that the last outpost of civilization nearest to them was fifty miles away, through a mountain pass. Walking was fine, but fifty miles was one heck of a hike.
.........."Hey, Jason, your arm looks messed." Zack had noticed earlier, but it hadn't really registered. Now, he looked at the other boy's arm and winced in sympathy. To Zack's eye, it looked sprained and pretty badly at that. Maybe even broken. He was impressed that Jason was being so calm.
.........."Yeah. It hurts pretty bad." Jason attempted to shrug it off but failed. The shock was wearing off. He hugged his arm closer. He took a few steps away from the new cliff and sat down heavily. The pain was making him feel faint. Trini came over, looking concerned and holding a couple Ace bandages.
.........."I can immobilize that. I took some first aid at my other school...." He held out his injured arm gratefully. In minutes, she had it wrapped up and had even fashioned a makeshift sling out of a ripped up t-shirt.
.........."Thanks." he said gratefully. Once immobilized, the pain in his wrist was tolerable. He wasn't feeling quite so dizzy, and he could think straight. "We really need to find Kimberly and Billy."
.........."They've been gone almost an hour." said Zack. "I don't know about Kimberly, but Billy's definitely smart enough to know that they should've come back right after the earthquake."
.........."I don't like it." Jason said. "They couldn't have gone too far... they might be in trouble. I mean, we didn't exactly fare that well either."
.........."We could go look for them." Trini said cautiously, "But I think we should stay together. We're already missing two people. I wouldn't want anyone to get lost." And, she thought to herself, it wasn't such a good idea to let Jason run around alone with a broken arm.
..........Jason stood. "Okay. Let's do it." For just a moment, he felt an odd sort of deja-vu... as if a block had suddenly tipped into place. He'd read about fate and destiny and he somehow knew that he was on a new, different path.
..........They walked into the woods, Jason leading.
..........Billy awoke to the sensation of someone placing a wet cloth in his forehead. That was just fine with him, since he felt like he was burning up. He opened his eyes and looked around. Everything was blurred, more so than usual, and he felt his pockets for his glasses.
.........."Hey, don't move around."
..........For a moment, he completely blanked. He had no idea where he was, or who the girl was. Then it came rushing back. The stupid trip, the forest, the earthquake, the snake. Kimberly. He rubbed his aching head and realized that he was soaking wet. He started to sit up, but Kimberly pushed him back down.
.........."I said don't move." Kimberly's voice was forceful.
.........."Why not?" He felt confused. And hot. And sick. "How long was I out?"
.........."About three hours." Kimberly wiped her hair out of her eyes. "I was really worried. After you passed out, I bandaged up the fang marks. You've been running a fever. I poured water on your clothes to cool you off. How do you feel?"
.........."I feel awful." he admitted. This, he thought, is a really bad situation. He wondered if Kimberly had thought about the fact that none of the others had come looking for them. He was unconscious for three hours. Add in the forty five minutes or so that they had been gone from camp before the whole mess started, and someone should have come looking for them. "Can I sit up?" He couldn't think lying down on the ground.
.........."Well.... yeah, okay. I guess the worst is over....I mean, if the poison hasn't killed you by now...." She chuckled and help him lean up against a log. He was not pleased with his condition. His foot and lower leg had swelled tremendously and was turning a variety of colors. Kimberly had fortunately had the presence of mind to take off his sneaker and roll up his pants. She had also done a nice job of bandaging the wounds up. Much better than the job he had done on her forehead.
.........."Where did you learn all these emergency medical procedures?" Billy was beginning to think that she wasn't as silly and shallow as she tried to act.
.........."Hmm? Oh, I took an EMT course." She leaned back against the log. "Never certified because of my age but it occasionally comes in handy. I like to be prepared." She handed him the canteen, indicating that he should drink. She was worried. Not so much about Billy, though he had scared her by passing out for so long and he was looking more than a little worse for wear, but about the others. They should have come looking by now. Something must've happened and that had her brain working overtime on the possibilities.
..........The worst case scenario, as she saw it, was that everyone except Billy and her had been killed. That was bad. For one thing, there was no way she could get Billy back to the campsite by herself. There was no way he was going to be able to walk it, and until she was a little more certain that he wasn't going to pass out again, she wouldn't leave him. She would go check the campsite as soon as she was positive he'd be all right. She would then haul some supplies, like food and shelter, back to their current position. If the van was okay, as soon as Billy could walk... like tomorrow, they could drive out. If the van was wrecked.... well, they would work something out. She thought they'd gone by a gas station the night before, maybe twenty miles down the road. Even if they were really slow, they'd could walk there by Sunday evening....
..........And this was assuming the others were dead. They could just be having troubles of their own. She didn't know. She almost didn't want to know.
..........Billy was thinking along the same lines. He wiggled his toes and winced at the sharp shooting pain. It would be better not to move at all, but they had to get back to the campsite. "You know....if you could maybe find a forked stick.....for a crutch... we could get back and see how the others are."
.........."Are you sure that's a good idea... you look, well, like it might be difficult." She was trying to be nice. She was well aware of how guys got macho with injuries... even nerds and geeks did it.
..........He was searching the grass for his glasses. He found, put them on and pushed them up. "We won't know until we try."
.........."We're lost." Jason leaned up against a tree. "We've been walking in circles for hours." He looked at his watch. It was one in the afternoon. He was getting hungry. More importantly, Kimberly and Billy were no where to be found...and they were lost.
.........."Oh man...." Zack was starting to not have a good time. "You know, this trip sucks." He kicked at a log.
..........Trini stepped down the slight rise the boys were on. "We aren't lost...but we have been walking in circles. Look." She pointed through the trees to a dirt road just visible. "Isn't that the road we drove up on?"
..........Jason wanted to slap himself. Yes, it was the road and he felt stupid. Stupid that they were walking in circles and even more stupid that he didn't realize it. He felt like he'd let the others down. "Jeez."
.........."Hey... it's okay." Zack gave him a reassuring pat on the back. "Just think, we're not lost anymore."
..........Jason thought about it. Did it really matter who got them from point A to point B... and back to point A? The situation was such that a good leader wouldn't really care who came up with the good ideas as long as someone had ideas. So what if it wasn't him? He was open minded enough to not get ticked off, wasn't he?
.........."Good thinking Trini!" he shouted as he and Zack followed her down to the road.
..........Kimberly and Billy had given up on the crutch long before they reached the campsite. It was unwieldy and awkward and they ended up chucking the whole idea. Kimberly ended up half supporting, half dragging Billy most of the way, which was what she had figured would happen anyhow. What took twenty minutes before ended up taking the better part of an hour, and Kimberly was beat. She set Billy down under a tree, and dropped to her knees beside him. "I'm bushed."
..........He nodded, too tired to talk. He just wanted to go to sleep, or maybe throw up. All he knew was that he couldn't see straight and that it was nice to sit down. He took a drink from the canteen and passed it to her.
..........She gulped down about half its contents, and grinned ruefully. She would have to hike back and refill it soon, which struck her as kind of funny. But before she did that, first she had to look for signs of life. She dragged herself up. "I'm gonna look around. You'll be okay, right?"
..........He waved vaguely at her and closed his eyes. He really didn't care what she did as long as he could stay where he was.
..........The campsite seemed to be deserted. The van was gone. Kirkland and the others were gone... and half of the clearing was gone. She stepped over to the newly formed cliff and looked down. There was the van...burnt and wrecked. She could just make out a shape still behind the wheel. She stepped away from the ledge, suddenly queasy. The water she had drunk felt like lead in her stomach... but she fought the panic that was rising.
..........Okay, maybe Kirkland was dead and the van was totaled but that didn't mean the others were dead too. After all, why would they have been in the van? Kimberly looked down at the ground. Sure enough, there were fresh footprints at the new ledge. The earthquake struck, the van fell killing Kirkland and they had watched it burn. Then what?
..........The obvious struck her. They went looking for us, she figured, or else they went for help. She wasn't too sure about her second guess. She knew Jason well enough from grade school to know that he was one of those responsible types. Trini had struck her the same way.
..........It didn't really matter. She and Billy were still alone. If the others came back tonight, it would be great but if they didn't, she would go ahead with plan B, walking to the gas station. Only, she thought as she walked back to Billy, we might have to hang here until Monday. Billy was pretty sick, and she couldn't carry him the whole way.
.........."Mr. Kirkland is dead." Kimberly was blunt. She didn't see any point in being coy about the situation. Like, it wasn't going to change anytime soon, and Billy wasn't exactly stupid.
.........."Oh well." Billy didn't mean to sound flip, but he'd figured something along those lines had happened anyway. Plus, he was feeling pretty awful... it wasn't that easy to work up a lot of sympathy for Kirkland, who was to be perfectly honest a jerk, when he felt like he was gonna die himself. "Any sign of the others?"
.........."I think they went looking for us... or else they took off for the nearest phone." Kimberly blew the hair out of her eyes. "I wish I'd brought my cellular phone." She sighed.
.........."That would've been fortuitous." Billy could almost see the results. A phone call... a short ride in ambulance... a nice soft bed. He sighed.
..........They sat in silence for a long moment. Kimberly suddenly sparked on an idea. "We should start a fire, like as a signal." She waited for Billy's opinion. Kimberly had, many times in the past, given out ideas, only to be shot down by her more studious classmates. She hated it... that was a lot of the reason behind her dislike of the nerd type.
.........."That's a good idea." Billy said appreciatively. "What made you think of that?"
..........She stood and started gathering dry wood as kindling. "Uh.....I saw it on an episode of MacGyver." She blushed a little. She only watched it cause Richard Dean Anderson was cute. She usually didn't even remember the plot lines. She looked at the kindling, set up in a neat little pyramid. "Got any matches?"
.........."Oh." She thought back to her days as a girl scout. She sighed again. It took forever to get a fire from rubbing two sticks together. She bent over the wood and got busy.
.........."Um...." Billy took off his glasses. "It uh... might be easier if... you focus the sunlight through the lens... it'd take less time."
..........She took the glasses and tried it. In minutes, a fire was burning merrily. She was awed. "Where'd you learn how to do that?"
.........."Didn't you read Lord of the Flies in English class last year?"
..........She shook her head. Schoolwork was not a high priority when there was a sale at the mall.
..........Jason smelled smoke long before he could see it. He didn't mention it at first, not wanting to raise the others hopes. Besides, he thought, it could be something bad. A forest fire, a demented mountain man burning trash... he'd seen a movie called "Deliverance" once that still occasionally gave him nightmares. Still, there was a very good chance, he reasoned, that their missing companions had returned to the campsite... he just didn't want to disappoint the others with any more wild goose chases.
..........Once they'd figured out where they were, they had circled back to the camp, and kept looking. The sun was starting to set by the time they had given up for the day. They trod along the dirt road, fairly dejected.
.........."So, what are we gonna do?" asked Zack as they walked.
.........."Well," Jason began, "I think that if Billy and Kimberly aren't back at the campsite by tomorrow, we should leave them a note and go for help."
..........Trini frowned at the plan but didn't disagree. She did not like the idea of leaving people behind but... despite his assurances to the contrary, Jason was hurting and needed medical attention. Walking out was pretty much the only option, especially since their parents likely had no idea that there was an emergency occurring. She was worried about Kimberly and Billy. Kimberly hadn't exactly been really friendly, but she hadn't been mean or rude and Trini had serious doubts about the girl's ability to deal with the woods. Trini had even more doubts about Billy. He seemed pretty nice but awful shy. Trini liked shy guys and she liked Billy in the same off hand way that she liked other people's pets... but he certainly didn't come off as Grizzly Adams by any stretch. In fact, the idea of Billy and Kimberly lost in the woods seemed almost hopeless.
..........Her companions weren't exactly inspiring confidence either. After getting lost the first time, Trini took the reins as far as navigation went. They never would've gotten back to camp otherwise. Jason was messed up physically and while not a doctor, she knew he was pretty well done in. Walking to civilization tomorrow might not be an option. Zack was just out of his element. Helpful, cheerful, but with no real idea of what to do.
..........She sniffed the air. Smoke wafted through the trees along with another, more familiar scent that her brain blanked on. She looked around at the surroundings. They were almost to the camp. She took a few trotting steps ahead and looked over the rise in the road. Sure enough, there was a fire blazing merrily near the tents, and two dark shapes huddled near it. She ran ahead, leaving Zack to drudge along with Jason, who couldn't move too quickly without jostling his injured arm.
.........."Hey! Are you guys okay?" she called as she ran towards the fire. In the waning light, she could see that it was Kimberly and Billy, and she felt a wave of relief. As she stepped into the fire's light, she checked out her companions and a gentle tug of apprehension returned. They both seemed okay at first glance, but pale and shaky, as if the day had been almost too much.
.........."Trini!" Kimberly set down the cup she was holding and leaped up. The two girls hugged, both surprised at the force of their happiness but not backing away from the feeling. "We were so worried."
.........."So were we." said Trini. She got a closer look at Kimberly. "What happened to your head? It looks like you cut it pretty bad."
..........Kimberly touched the bloody bandanna self consciously. "I'm okay. Where are the guys?" Kimberly was getting a little worried.
.........."They're coming." Trini said. "I ran ahead when I saw the fire. Jason broke his arm in the earthquake so he's taking it slow and Zack stayed with him." Trini glanced over at Billy. He was propped against a dufflebag, wrapped in a sleeping bag and holding a steaming cup. If Kimberly had looked a little peaked, then Billy looked wrung out. "Are you okay, Billy?" she asked with concern.
..........He smiled a little. "I think so." He was touched by the concern in her voice.
.........."You are not," Kimberly said indignantly. She turned to Trini, her exasperation starting to show. "He got bit by a rattlesnake. I was afraid he was gonna die. He is not fine."
.........."That's okay." Trini said, grinning. She whispered to Kimberly, "Jason insists his broken arm doesn't hurt."
.........."It must be a guy thing." Kimberly whispered back. "They're such twits sometimes."
.........."Hey... I heard that." Billy waved an accusing finger at the two chuckling girls. "It's not just sometimes... men are genetically inclined to be twits." He grinned broadly. It was very seldom that he made an effort to kid around, but then, it'd been a wild day. The two girls stared for a moment, absolutely shocked and then started rolling with laughter.
..........It was at that moment that they felt the same weird deja-vu feeling that Jason had felt earlier... the feeling that this wouldn't be the last time that they laughed together... that destiny was picking a path for them. Not quite realizing why, they broke off the laughter, leaving behind that weird sensation that forces were working all around them... whether they were paying attention or not.
..........Jason leaned back against a duffle bag and sipped his cocoa reflectively. Despite his broken arm, he was starting to feel pretty good. The fact that Billy and Kimberly were not lying dead in a ditch somewhere was a definite plus. The fact that they were all together, sitting around the camp was another. The fire itself was cheering, holding back the cold and dark.
..........And, it was dark outside the range of firelight. He shivered a little as he looked towards the blackened woods. No moonlight, and there were clouds covering the stars that had been so breathtaking the night before. He sipped his cocoa again.
..........The cocoa was Kimberly's actually. She and Billy had been dining upon Lipton Chicken Noodle Cup a Soup. Jason got the impression that both were feeling a little under the weather... understandable really. When he and the others showed up, Kimberly had fixed everyone soup and pulled out some Swiss Miss. "I didn't bring enough after dinner mints." she kidded. He was grateful, regardless.
..........He looked around the fire at his companions. Trini was testing her flashlight. Zack was gnawing on some beef jerky, and occasionally holding it in the fire, a "jerky barbecue" he'd declared. Kimberly was brushing her hair, and Billy was curled up in a ball, fast asleep. Technically, he supposed, Billy was the worse off physically, with the only near death experience out of the group. Kimberly, however, had assured everyone that the guy would be up and around, if not tomorrow then Monday. That made Jason the only real liability in the group. He sighed.
..........He always felt like a liability. It seemed like the people around him were always smarter, more popular, better at sports... whatever. The only thing he was good at, it seemed, was karate... and that wasn't a unique thing in Angel Grove. The martial arts were very popular, with schools devoted to even the more obscure arts like escrima and savate. Now, here he was, in a survival situation, and yet again, the people around him were better. Zack was unflappable. Anything that happened seemed to just roll off of him with no problem. Trini was the same way, with the added bonus of having a great sense of direction. Billy not only had some pretty good tricks for getting things done, like starting fires and such, but he was also a lot tougher than he looked. And talk about tough, he thought as he watched Kimberly continue brushing her hair, Kimberly was hard core. After listening to her and Billy explain how their day went, Jason had a new and deep respect for Kimberly. He felt like a stupid hulking jock, good for the heavy lifting and not much more... and with his arm broken, not even good for that.
..........After settling in around the campfire, they had sat in companionable silence. A comfortable silence, that Jason had resisted. He felt a sort of drawing inward... that somehow, the others were merely waiting for him to join in. He wanted to, he got the feeling that this could be the close circle of friends that he wanted... he just didn't feel... worthy. Where was his place in this group?
.........."Jason, are you all right?" Kimberly asked gently. She sensed that he was uneasy about something. She had kept her eye on him as both Zack and Trini had fallen asleep by the fire. "You look worried."
.........."Just thinking." he said as he finished off his cocoa. "Tomorrow is gonna be a long day."
..........She nodded. It didn't surprise her that Jason was planning for the next day. In fact, it seemed natural. Jason was so... in charge. She had found herself growing to like Jason a lot, and after talking with Trini, even respecting him. If, after getting them lost and having Trini find their way back, Jason could still be gracious, well... most guys would've been surly about it. "When do you think we should leave?"
..........Jason looked at her with surprise. By her tone, he could tell that she would go along with whatever he suggested . That she trusted his opinion. That she trusted him. "Maybe around eight... if everything is okay," he said, almost waiting for her to laugh and call him stupid. When she nodded agreement, he smiled at her, and let out the breath he'd been holding.
..........Kimberly chuckled. "What, did you think I was gonna flip out and shouting? Jeez , Jason, someone has to do the planning around here and since the rest of us apparently don't care," and she gestured to the sleeping heaps, "it might as well be you."
..........Jason nodded, considering her words. Maybe that was his place in all of this... to take charge. He looked around the fire, feeling all at once as if... he really did belong. It was momentarily overpowering, the sudden sense of a circle being complete. Kimberly shook suddenly, as though a chill went through in, and there were fitful restless stirrings from the others. "Did you feel that?"
.......... Yeah." Kimberly said in a soft voice. "It was... weird. All of a sudden, it was like... we're all here. But we aren't, not really...." She pointed to the empty place by the fire, near the cliff that no one had taken. It had been as if no one wanted to take the place of their missing companion. Kimberly just wasn't sure if she'd been thinking of Kirkland when she had sat down.
.........."Maybe it's that we're all here... that can be." Jason also didn't think it was Kirkland that left the slightly troubling hole in there group. The blank place by the fire was unsettling... an omen. Good or bad, Jason didn't know. "Maybe," he said hesitantly, "we should turn in. I think we're creeping ourselves out."
.........."Yeah." Kimberly snuggled down in her sleeping bag. "G'Night, Jason."
.........."Good night." But Jason didn't go right to sleep. He sat in the waning light of the fire, and considered the various options open to them. Someone had to.
..........Morning wake up call was later than expected, and more irritating than needed. Zack had awakened first. He had checked his watch first thing, vaguely recalling Jason say something about leaving at eight. It was eight. He chuckled. As he walked to the stream and back, filling everyone's canteens, he hatched his plan. Noting how closely everyone was on the ground, he filled a cup full of water, and flung it on the sleeping teens.
..........It brought instant results.
.........."You jerk!" Trini leaped out of her bag, grabbed a canteen, and started chasing Zack around. Mornings weren't her thing.
.........."Idiot." said Jason, rubbing the grit out of his eyes.
.........."It's too early...." Billy groaned and pulled his sleeping bag over his head.
.........."Oh my god....My hair is completely ruined!" Kimberly dropped the mirror and began emergency brushing. Trini had her revenge by pouring a canteen all over Zack, who took it good naturedly.
..........After various morning tasks, and a breakfast of dried figs and jerky (Zack's), power bars (Jason's) and Twinkies (Billy's), they sat down and discussed the day's plan. Jason brought up the most important point immediately.
.........."I feel a lot better, he said, gesturing to his injured arm, "I could do some walking today. How about you, Billy?"
..........Billy blushed. He rolled up the cuff of his jeans and exposed the bite. On the one hand, his leg looked much more bruised. On the other, the swelling was down considerably. "I think I will in satisfactory condition for a foot march as long as the pace is not in an accelerated manner."
.........."Huh?" said Jason, Kimberly and Zack.
..........Trini grinned. "He said he'll be fine as long as we keep it slow." Billy's decidedly odd way of speaking reminded her of her grandfather, who had the same ponderous way of expressing himself. Trini had always translated his words to her younger brothers and sisters, and doing the same with Billy made her feel a little less homesick.
.........."Oh... okay then." Jason pressed on. "Now, since we don't know exactly how far away the nearest town is...."
.........."Twenty miles." chimed Kimberly.
.........."Fifty miles." disagreed Zack.
.........."My point exactly." Jason steered the discussion back on course, "The thing is, we need to take some stuff with us... in case we have to camp out tonight."
.........."Like what?" Trini asked.
..........Jason pulled out the list he'd made the night before. "Food, first off... and our sleeping bags. The canteens, some first aid stuff.... maybe some clothes and personal stuff, but try to keep it light."
..........They dispersed to get ready. In less than twenty minutes, the kids were ready to go. Zack, humming to himself and dancing as he hefted his backpack, suddenly noticed that Kimberly was wincing a little, and rubbing her temples. "Hey Kim... you okay?"
..........She dropped her hand, and smiled. "Yeah... just a little headache. You know. I'm fine." She shouldered her backpack and trotted up to Jason. Zack watched, and shook his head. She didn't look fine to him. Zack wondered if the blow to the head she had taken was maybe catching up on her. He decided to keep his eye on her.
..........Ten thirty. Jason saw a stream flowing next to the road and called a break. It was hot, there wasn't a cloud in the sky, and the sun was beating down on the teens like a relentless malevolent force. The last thing they needed, Jason thought, was someone dropping dead of heat stroke. Besides, they could refill canteens... who knew when they'd find another water source?
..........Kimberly took her sneakers off and thrust her feet into the cold water. "Ohhhh....will someone please remind me to buy hiking boots for the next stupid class trip? The water feels great... come on guys, try it!"
..........Zack and Jason need no urging and soon were wading playfully in the stream. Trini started untying her laces. Unlike the day before, the temperature was unseasonably hot and Trini was grateful that Jason had suggested everyone wear shorts. She stood up and headed for the stream but then a thought suddenly crossed her mind.
.........."Present...." She turned around to see Billy sitting up against a tree, his backpack still on, a walking stick carefully laid across his lap. He looked exhausted.
..........She decided to forego wading for a few minutes. "Why aren't you going wading?" If anyone looked like they could use a few minutes in cold water, it was Billy.
..........He shook his head. "Don't feel like it."
.........."Really?" Trini doubted his words. She gave him an intent serious look, hoping to intimidate the truth out of him. After a few seconds, he blushed and looked away.
.........."No...." He gestured to his feet. "I'm afraid that if I take off my shoes... my foot was still swelled this morning .... the pressure from walking...."
.........."You might not be able to get your shoes back on if you do go wading." She saw his point. As it was, he hadn't been able to even tie the shoe on his injured foot because of the swelling that morning. A quick look assured her that there was a good chance Billy couldn't get his shoe off even if he wanted to.
.........."Affirmative." He smiled shyly at her.
.........."Well, I can get you some cold water... if you like." Trini felt a sort of protectiveness towards the quiet youth. She got the impression that Billy tended to let himself suffer rather than draw any sort of attention to himself. She knew the feeling. Moving around the way her family did, knowing that she'd only be in one place for a few months had, in her earlier years, given Trini a terrible case of shyness. School after school, she would retreat into books. It was easier than making friends and getting hurt at every new move. It was hard to break that habit, her martial arts training had helped, and a lot of family support had brought about a lot of change. Still, she saw a lot of herself in Billy. And really, it seemed kinda mean to leave him all by himself. Maybe she was shy sometimes, but Trini was never intentionally mean.
.........."Jason's refilling my canteen, but thanks." She seems nice, Billy thought to himself. And it was neat that she always seem to know what he was talking about. That was something new and different to think about, but he was already close to overload in that department. People being nice to him, Kimberly actually treating him as a friend... despite the fact that he was in more pain than he cared for, he was actually having a good time. It was really too bad he was too exhausted to enjoy it. But, as Trini continued to talk, he made an effort to listen and to chat. Trini seemed like she'd be worth the effort.
..........Jason looked at his watch. It was almost three p.m. He figured at the pace they were going, they should be coming up on the gas station any time. If, that is, Kimberly was right. If not, then they'd definitely hit the station by about this time tomorrow. Jason winced as he slipped a little and jostled his arm .
..........All of his predictions were based on the idea that he wasn't going to collapse and he was starting to wonder if perhaps he should put that into the equation. Granted, the pain was no where near as bad as the day before, but then, they hadn't trotted around the woods at the pace they were going at today either. Maybe it was time for another rest stop.
..........As he turned around to call a halt, he saw his companions in a straggling line, looking as beat as he felt, and it occurred to him that at this rate, everyone was going to collapse. Zack was maybe fifty feet behind him, calling encouragement to Kimberly, who lagged behind. As he watched, Zack trotted back and started redistributing some of Kim's stuff into his backpack. Farther back, Jason could see Trini trailing along with Billy, and giving Billy an occasional steadying hand. And was Billy limping worse than before ? Jason wanted to kick himself again. Obviously, his pace was too fast, even for him, and if they had to stop because of injuries, it would be his fault. Some leader he was.
.........."I thought maybe we'd take a long break." he said as Zack and Kimberly approached.
.........."Good idea. Man...I'm feeling just a little footsore." Zack actually was fine, but he was feeling some empathy for Kimberly, who , he was beginning to think, wasn't feeling too good at all. As Kim took a seat under a tree, he whispered his concerns to Jason.
..........Trini and Billy took Kimberly's lead and grabbed seats under the trees. They were both tired and when Trini took off her sneakers, she confirmed the fact that her feet were blistering up. Lovely, she thought. By the time the new and improved death march to Bataan ends, I'll be crippled up. "Jason," she called, keeping her irritation out of her voice, "We need to take this a little slower."
.........." Yeah... I know." Jason hung his head.
.........."Um...excuse me." Kimberly jumped up, ran a few steps into the woodline, and threw up.
.........."See what I mean." said Zack. He was starting to get concerned. "Maybe she has a concussion or something."
.........."She was unconscious for a few minutes, yesterday." Billy added.
..........Jason considered the situation. "You know... we could call it a day. Give everyone a break. Rest up a bit. We do need to stop before the sun goes down." Not really the most important issue, he knew, considering it was a good four hours before sunset.
.........."But what about getting to the gas station?" Trini knew they were close... at least if Kimberly was right. She didn't want to spend the night in the woods if there was civilization a mile or two up the road.
..........Zack waved away her words. "No problem. I'll walk a few miles up the road and like... scout out the territory." Up until that point, Zack had been feeling a little unneeded. Sure, he was pulling his own weight, but so was everyone else. But as he looked around, he could see that everyone did need to stop, and maybe he could help settle everyone's concerns. Zack found himself really liking all of the kids in his ill-fated class and he wanted to help. So, maybe he wasn't a master woodsman, but he could hike a few more miles, no problem. His feet didn't even hurt.
..........Kimberly walked in on the last bit of conversation. "What're you talking about?" she asked slowly. Her head hurt and her stomach was upset. She wanted, more than ever, to curl up and go to sleep. Trini motioned for her to sit down and she did, grateful for the break. Jason quickly explained the game plan and since they all agreed, Zack dropped his backpack and trotted down the road while the others set up camp.
.........."You know," said Kimberly as she laid back on her sleeping bag. "I would sell my soul for some Tylenol right about now. Jeez... maybe I do have a concussion." She rubbed her head.
.........."Or aspirin." Jason agreed.
..........Billy nodded along with them. He could use some pain relief too. He rubbed the dirt off of his glasses and put them on, hoping that clearer vision would bring something into focus that would help. As luck would have it, it did. Off in the woods, he saw a willow tree... somewhat of a rarity in the semi-arid climate. "Trini.. .look! A willow tree. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
..........Trini saw the tree, nothing special coming to mind. Then, she suddenly understood. "Great idea Billy!" She grabbed her jackknife and trotted off to the tree.
.........."Huh?" both Kimberly and Jason said.
.........."Willow bark contains acetaminophen." Billy said.
.........."What?" they both said, clearly not understanding.
..........Trini came back, with several chunks of bark. "Acetaminophen is aspirin." she explained. "If we boil it and make tea... its like taking aspirin. Pain relief." She lit the fire with one of Jason's matches.
.........."Um..." Kimberly watched as Trini prepared the herbal remedy, "Is this safe?"
..........Billy nodded. "Look at it this way.... people have used this a a remedy for years. At the very least, it won't kill you."
..........As they sat around the fire drinking the somewhat sour tasting beverage, Zack came walking into the campsite, with a grin on his face
.........."The good news is," he began dramatically as he took a seat, "I found the gas station. The bad news is that they're closed on Sundays... so unless we want to break in today, we'll have to rough it again tonight." He glanced around at his companions. "So like, are we that desperate or what?"
..........They all looked at each other. Were they that desperate? "I think," said Jason, "That we can wait... right guys?" They all nodded. Breaking and entering was wrong, after all.
..........The gas station attendant swore as he drove in to work to find five bedraggled fifteen year olds sitting around his pumps at eight in the morning. It's gonna be one of those days, he thought to himself.
.........."Can I help you?" he snarled as he got out of the car.
.........."Can we use the phone?" asked the well muscled boy dressed in red.
.........."Christ...." The surly attendant unlocked the door and let the kids in. Then he went outside, grumbling to himself.
..........Kimberly grabbed the phone and dialed. It rang on the other end forever. "No one home." She passed the phone to Billy.
.........."Hi Dad!" He gave his friends a thumbs up sign. Rescue was in sight. "Um...Dad...we've gotten into a jam on this camping trip." He held the phone away from his ear as his father shouted something. The other kids grinned, not envying Billy for a second. "That trip you signed the permission slip for... last week. Anyway, our teacher died, the transportation blew up... can you come get us?"
.........."My god, are you all right?!" This time, they all heard Billy's dad.
.........."Well, yeah... except for the rattlesnake bite... but once I regained consciousness, I was okay." There was some inarticulate ranting on the other end.
..........Kimberly covered the bottom end of the phone. "Billy... try not to give him a heart attack." For someone who was so smart, Billy could be pretty clueless. Billy nodded at her and returned to the phone.
.........."Dad... really, I'm okay...." He listened for a few minutes, a little overwhelmed by his father's concern. After reassuring his distraught parent, he gave the directions for the gas station and hung up. "He said he'd be here in an hour or so." Everyone cheered.
.........."You know," said Zack as they all went out onto the steps in front to wait, "In a way, this has been kinda cool. I wonder if this is what they really meant by Experiential Experience. Do you get what I mean?" They all nodded.
.........."It's like being a team." suggested Jason.
.........."Yeah, but does this mean that we have formed the ever elusive bond?" asked Kimberly.
..........Trini nodded. "I think so... I don't think I can just forget the last couple days. Maybe poor Mr. Kirkland had his first success after all. I mean, we are friends, right?"
.........."Definitely." said Zack.
.........."Affirmative." said Billy.
.........."Yeah." added Jason.
.........."We'll be friends forever!" Kimberly said forcefully. With that out of the way, the five friends sat on the steps and waited for their ride.