Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 19: Hikersí Accommodations
by Jeff Rand
"So be it!" echoed the three voices after they finished the song of the Order of the Arrow. This marked its first real signing in years and no one seemed more pleased than John Howey.
"How did you know to come to D-A and the Memorial Site?" inquired John.
"We just figured that it would be the best place to find someone else," said Robert Hartwig.
"Good guess. Perhaps there are others who will do the same," said John. "Now tell me about your escape."
Alan Wilson proceeded, "It started with your apparent drowning. Now that was shock enough, but when there was real talk of suspending Winter Camp, I started having doubts. I recall my father talking with Jeff Rand when I was a young child. They were fully engaged in debate of how to proceed with a post-apocalyptic Winter Camp. At the time I fully believed that they were quite ready for a nuclear disaster and it would be only a minor difficulty in proceeding with Winter Camp as planned. It was as if a major disaster would produce new experiences at Winter Camp and they would readily accept the challenge."
"Yes, we've often heard that Jeff was insane," retorted John.
"Perhaps, but I believe the attitude that Winter Camp would prevail existed among all the Elders," said Alan.
"John, even the events leading to your accident were difficult to explain. Although I'd heard of synaesthesia, the real experience was something of a surprise. Of course I now know the truth behind it," said Robert.
Alan continued, "That was just the start of the strange events. Winter Camp in recent years has been nearly perfect, almost too perfect in giving us what we wanted. When Dave Milon started acting strange, our world became further shattered. Then there was the knife fight and Mr. Oatley killing the invader."
"Please elaborate," said John, acting genuinely interested.
"Of course I heard various references to Mr. Oatley during my life. Once or twice I observed my father imitating him. When he appeared at Winter Camp, it was if he were expected all along. Although, I think he would be over a 120 years old. Now I did not witness the knife fight, but from what I heard he showed extreme vigor for a man of that age."
"At first I accepted it, like the others. Only later, when Mark Bollman identified the other combatant, did I have real doubts. This man, to be sure, Bollman described as Dr. E. Urner Goodman, the founder of the Order of the Arrow. Mark brought forth from the archives a photo and biography. Goodman died on March 13, 1980 at the age of 88. Now how could he still be alive and healthy enough to fight, even with cryogenics?"
Hartwig interrupted, "Being the only physician present, I had a chance to examine the body. Without a doubt the face bore a remarkable resemblance to the photo of Dr. Goodman."
Alan continued, "Reality finally unraveled with the second visitor. He left us no doubt that all was not right with the world. We were all shocked when Ron Donohue exposed his face and phony eye. Mick Belmont quickly explained that it was prosthetic, but the Winter Camp Elders refused this explanation. Now my dad is seldom violent, but I really thought he was going to pulverize Belmont. As it was the Elders restrained Belmont, so they might conduct further investigation."
"The next few hours are a bit of a blur. I recall a long wait for the return of Steve Donohue and Jeff Rand, as we were eager to learn news of Dave Milon. Donohue and Rand did not return by daylight, forcing Mark Bollman to declare that they had missed a night of Winter Camp. This caused Ron Donohue to declare that the world was about to end. My father, on the other hand, kept repeating the words 'Project Orion' in a most quizzical manner."
"Now we were all confused, but it was my severe headache that brought me to my senses. As I recalled the events of the past few days, I had just one conclusion, that reality existed elsewhere. At that moment, I resolved in the depth of my soul that I should wake from the dream."
Hartwig proceeded to elaborate on his version, "When I observed Alan in his state of stupor, I too became doubtful. He kept repeating that he was not really here. In addition, somewhere in the vaulted isles of memory, I knew that Project Orion held some great meaning. As if I was reliving a Vigil experience, I cast judgement upon myself. At one time I studied Eastern meditation and I drew upon this technique to allow my mind to step outside my body. There I found my body captive to machines. I realized at once that I had been joined to the world of neural virtual reality."
"Do you think anyone else escaped?" asked John.
"We can hope. After all, Alan and I happen to be the closest to D-A. Perhaps there will be others who will join us later," said Bob.
"It would help my plan," said John.
"Your plan?'" inquired Alan.
"Yes, you don't think that those two visitors to Winter Camp were an accident do you?"
Alan and Bob shook their heads and joined John, as he proceeded down the treacherous path towards the Beaver Creek Building.
No one was expecting any sign of life at the BC Building, but they were pleasantly surprised to see that it had not been completely destroyed. The building stood dark, with a bank of windblown snow on its porch. A tree had fallen on the road nearby, otherwise the area looked free of damage.
"I'm a bit disappointed," said Alan. "There is no second story."
"No underground transportation network either," said John. "Welcome to the real world."
Once inside the cabin, Bob slipped on a small patch of ice just inside the doorway, an obvious sign of a leaky roof. "I wish we had a flashlight," he said.
"Sorry, I don't have one. Perhaps a candle will do."
John removed a candle from his makeshift pack. Soon there was enough light to investigate the cabin. Most of the contents were there as expected: bunks, tables, chairs, and the kitchen appliances.
The 30-year-old stove had seen some better days, but it looked like it might function. John turned the gas valve and lit a match. Fortunately the old stove still produced a dependable flame and soon all six burners were ablaze. Since the cabin did not have any electric power, using the electric heaters was not an option, so the stove provided a welcome source of heat.
Having not had anything to eat since their departure from the Lapeer NVR Center, Alan and Bob were more then pleased when John produced several cans of food from his pack. They each decided to have a can of tuna fish and to share a can of yellow cling peaches. To complete the meal, John provided a canteen of almost frozen lemonade.
"I don't suppose food is very plentiful?" inquired Bob.
"It may be," said John, "but I had to search a bit to find these. I don't how much more will be readily available."
Dinner now consumed, the next pressing matter was the need for sleep. In the world they had left, sleep had become more of a recreational activity, but now all three experienced weariness of the body. Alan hauled several mattresses into kitchen to build a bed next to the stove. The arrangement he described involved sleeping next to the stove, using mattresses both underneath and as covers. They would sleep close together to preserve warmth. While Alan worked on the bed, John coaxed the oven into to action to add its output to that of the six burners.
"I'll bet no one has ever slept in the BC Building using mattresses as blankets," said Bob.
"Perhaps not," said Alan. "However, I think they will be thermally efficient. I must believe that we're in store for many new experiences. I only hope that we will be able to save the others."
"A matter best settled in the morning," interrupted John.
The hours of darkness offered some sleep, but mostly discomfort. Bob Hartwig slept closest the stove and was actually too warm during most of the night. He was eager to stretch his legs at first light on the day he reckoned to be first of the new year. "Welcome 2031," he said to no one in particular.
Bob squeezed by the stove around the counter into the main room. While the direct rays of sunlight had yet illuminate this longitude, in the soft light of early dawn he could perceive a strange object on the floor in the center of the room. He had no recollection of seeing anything there when they went to bed. As he approached the object he realized that it was of human form.
"Oh my God!" he shouted.
The figure slumped on the floor was the most despicable looking person he had ever seen. The clothing looked like the poor fellow had ripped the hide off a wild beast and used it as his own bloody covering. His hair was long and caked with what appeared to be the outflow of a septic tank. Bob could not see the face amidst the mess of hair.
Alan and John quickly sprang to action. They helped Bob roll over the body on its back and push the hair off the face. The identity of this creature that looked like it belonged in hell could not be mistaken. It was Tom Ray and he was alive.
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