Zero Node: Chapter 19: “A Test of Faith”
by Jeff Rand
Some of the text in this chapter provides additional background concerning the events at the virtual Winter Camp LIV. Further details are given concerning the founders of the Order of the Arrow. A prediction is offered of a large tree falling on the road beside the Beaver Creek (BC) Building without hitting the actual structure. Although it did not fall across the road, a champion-sized oak tree was uprooted in 2018 and now rests a few feet from the building.
The title referring to Hikers' Accommodations will suggest that the characters in the story had to hike some distance to find accommodation at the BC Building. This is true, and remarkably, the structure is still standing. However, the title points to another 1977 event that predated Winter Camp I. Doug Wilson and Jeff Rand had hiked from Allen Park to D-bar-A, a distance of 62 miles in two days. Between them they carried a small pack weighing three pounds (water included.) When they arrived at the BC Building, they had to use mattresses as coverings while they slept. The characters in Another Ten Seconds had to do the same.
December 14, 2019
Need a refresher? Here's the Another Ten Seconds chapter
Ethan remained in a state of semi-consciousness until he became fully alert when he heard a rustling at the door. "Hey! Who's there!" he shouted.
Immediately the others were alerted and sat upright. Keith was closest to the door and stood in the cramped and dark space to open it. Holding the bar to the crude latch, he pushed to force the door outward. But it would not move. He forced his shoulder into it with more pressure, but to no avail. "I think the door is broken," he cried.
Ethan felt his way stepping across the others to help. Both men pushed the door, but it would not budge. They jiggled the latch, not sure it was lifting and pushed hard on the door.
"We did fix the latch on the outside and it might be broken again," said Keith. "In any case, I am sure we pushed hard enough to break it open. I can't understand it."
"Someone is out there and is blocking the door!" screamed Ethan.
"But dad, Mr. Donohue and Mr. Rand were the only other people we have seen in four years," interjected Leu.
"I know, it does not seem possible, but I think I heard voices before hearing the noise at the door."
"Perhaps something fell from the lighthouse and is blocking the door," said Steve, joining the conversation. At that moment he rose to be joined by Leu and Michaela. Five were now pushing the door with no luck.
The next few hours progressed slowly, as the five travelers sat in the darkness of the Howland Island lighthouse. While they discussed their options, they took inventory of their few possessions. They each had a jug of water, but Steve had moved the food supplies outside near the cooking area, as they had no fear of other humans stealing their food. Each had a sleeping pad and a worn blanket, along with a pee bottle. There were a few candles and matches, but these were used sparingly. Other than Steve, each person had a change of well-worn clothes to compliment the rags they were wearing. All other supplies and most importantly, tools were outside or still on the Clearwater.
"Dad! I'm scared!" cried Leu. "Are we trapped? Are we going to die in here?"
"Son," Ethan said in a consoling manner. "We've been through a lot and have survived. We will get through this."
As Ethan was speaking, a few rays of morning daylight began to shine through one of the slits on the side of the lighthouse. Though they had been depending on opening the lighthouse door to illuminate its interior, this small portal to the outside brought some hope, dimly lighting their perceived prison.
Ethan continued, "Leu, do you know what day it is?"
"I believe it is November 2, 2031," responded Leu. "Do you mean we missed Halloween again?"
"No," said Ethan. "It is Sunday, and although we haven't had the privilege to participate in a mass conducted by a priest in several years, it would be a good time to come together for a Scout's own."
Michaela quickly warmed to the idea, saying, "That will be nice. Lately, I haven't had any trouble avoiding meat on Friday, but would enjoy having a priest celebrate a Latin mass."
Steve interjected, "Veni, Vidi, Castri."
"What does that mean?" asked Michaela.
"I am not sure," said Steve. "But it was used to describe Winter Camp 31, where we all assumed Latin names. I think it came from Mark Bollman or was it Julius Caesar?"
Ethan called the small group together by leading a prayer thanking God for the wonders of the earth and for the guidance on their journey. He continued by assigning the other four Eagle Scouts each three points of the Scout law and asking them to give an example of how the values expressed by the specific point of the law guides one's faith.
Steve was assigned trustworthy and began his remarks by stating that although he was not a student of scripture, he knew that it started with trusting the Word. He went on to explain that he had to trust his companions through the perils they faced, and he knew that trust allowed him to survive this impossible journey.
No one was particularly brief in his comments, and Michaela was given the charge of describing the impact of the last point, reverent. She went on for fifteen minutes leaving no doubt that because the Boy Scouts of America held to this value, it survived significant threats in the past, and they would too.
Following the renewal of their faith in a higher power, the travelers proceeded to search for a means of escape. Steve and Michaela searched their small room looking for vulnerabilities or even objects that might afford their escape. Ethan and Leu climbed the few stairs looking for a way to break through the ceiling to get to the chamber above. Keith returned to the door to find a way to push it open.
After about an hour, Ethan and Leu had given up on any escape through the ceiling. Steve and Michaela found nothing but a few cockroach guests. When they were successful in capturing the insects, they felt the roaches would provide a bit of nutrition, but Michaela vowed not to eat them on a Friday.
Keith managed to remove the metal bar the stuck through the door to lift the hasp on the outside. For the rest of the morning he rubbed it against the wall in the hopes of sharpening it to a useful point. By lunchtime it was ready. Of course, there was no lunch to be enjoyed. Once he was satisfied with his new tool, he began using it to enlarge the small hole through the door. For the remainder of the afternoon, he continued the effort, pausing only to let one of his companions take over. By late afternoon he had gouged a hole big enough to reach through with his hand. He felt for the latch hasp and it was completely free of an obstruction. As the sun began to set, he enlarged the hole to allow more access for his forearm. He reached down a few inches on the door and found that a metal rod had been placed across its expanse to prevent it from opening. "Okay! It is time to let us out!" he shouted. There was no response.
They spent the long hours of darkness in the small room after having nothing to eat that day. They could last a few days with the water they had but knew that they would perish unless they were able to escape.
By morning, Steve noted that they were making progress in filling their pee bottles. He had hoped to empty his supply through one of the slits in the wall but found it difficult for it to flow anywhere except onto the floor of the small chamber in which they slept. Finally, Michaela came to his rescue with the funnel that they had found which allowed him to pour urine outside. Steve then proceeded to consolidate their water supply in order to repurpose one of the jugs to collect fecal waste. From his own recent experience, he knew that fecal production would be diminished from the lack of food. He instructed the others on how to defecate using a squat toilet, suggesting that they would be following traditional Islamic rules and not use toilet paper. Of course, they had none and would have to suffer the effects of dried fecal particles on their anuses.
On the second day of captivity, Keith continued to enlarge the hole through the door. "Do you think they will come back?" he asked.
"I don't know. Perhaps they are just Polynesians that stopped on this Island and didn't know we were here." Steve responded.
Ethan joined the conversation, "I am sure they knew we were inside. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I heard them talking."
Lacking anything else to do, the hungry crew continued work to enlarge the hole in the door.
On the third morning, Steve proceeded to empty their pee bottles, but he was the only one able to defecate. He didn't expect that he would be able to do so tomorrow. Further, he expected that their water supply would be gone and so would the need to urinate. If they weren't able to escape, each person would eventually die of thirst in the small room. He did not want to be the last to die and suffer with the smells of rotting flesh. Although he doubted the dry environment of Howland Island would lead to the production of much adipocere from the corpses.
Though Keith was close to giving up on enlarging the hole, Michaela was able to stick her head through it. Perhaps she would be able to squeeze through in a few days to escape. However, her hopes were diminished when she looked to the left towards the landing where the Clearwater was moored. The Clearwater was gone. Little progress was made in enlarging the hole during the rest of the day.
Steve was able to sit up on the fourth morning but there was no need to evacuate his bowels or empty the few milliliters of urine produced by his fellows. He lay down again as he observed Keith working to enlarge the hole. Leu relieved Keith at this effort after a short period. Yet, he too, could not continue for more than a few minutes. Keith and Leu joined the others in the prone position, hoping their deaths would not be terribly painful.
No one stirred on the fifth morning. Yet they were all still alive.
During the afternoon of the fifth day, Steve was alerted from a disturbance outside the lighthouse. He forced himself to crawl to the hole gouged in the door. He could see no one outside. Instead he was greeted by a thunderstorm. First, he thought of using the funnel in a reverse process to catch some rain and send it into their chamber. While his head was too large to fit through the hole, he reached through with his arm attempting to find a placement for the funnel. When he explored the wall to the right of the door, his hand was drenched in a stream of water. He cupped his hand and brought the precious liquid to his mouth.
Steve wasted no time gathering their water jugs. He would have to adjust the shape to force one through the hole. He was not able to keep all the water, but a half a jug could be a lifesaver. At least it might delay death. Fortunately, the water kept running down the wall and he was able to fill the rest. He awakened the others by pouring water on their lips. All were quick to react and consumed every drop he had collected with a few gulps. Steve set a new personal consumption record, exceeding the three liters of well water he drank during competition at Winter Camp XIX.
Once every person was satisfied, Steve continued to fill the jugs. Keith gathered the pee bottles, which Steve filled without wasting any water to rinse them. The rain ceased as the storm moved west. When Steve peered through the hole, he became captivated by the scene. He called to Leu, who viewed the majestic rainbow in the distance.
Not expecting an answer, Leu asked, "Mr. Donohue, why do rainbows curve in an arch?"
"Leu, I know you now have had a chance to attend Winter Camp. But there were fifty held before you were old enough to participate. As you know, the Winter Camp Universe of Knowledge is extensive. We made a significant discovery during the planning for Winter Camp VIII in 1984 shortly before the birth of your father. That is when we became students of inversive geometry and learned that the earth is actually a hollow sphere. We don't live on the earth. We live in the earth. That explains why a rainbow must be a curve."
"Ethan responded, "I don't fully understand it myself. However, you know that Winter Camp is the product of some real smart minds."
"Perhaps it is the work of sick minds in Allen Park," mumbled Keith
Having regained some strength, Steve resumed efforts at enlarging the hole. When he retired for the night, the diameter of the hole had increased. The next morning, once again, escape appeared possible. Despite having gone six days without food, the starving travelers continued work on cutting through the door, sharing in this effort. They were very weak but remained optimistic when they concluded their cutting that evening.
They had spent a week in captivity and would likely spend another sabbath without food. Ethan called the group together for a Scout's Own. He gave thanks for the rain that renewed their faith, but the service was brief. As the families present had their roots in the Roman Catholic Church, he hoped that they would soon have the opportunity to fully celebrate a mass with a Eucharist.
Later that afternoon, Steve announced that it is time for Sunday dinner. He surprised the group when he produced a collection of two dozen dead cockroaches. In addition, he had an even larger collection of crickets and assorted beetles.
"Where did you get all the bugs?" asked Michaela.
"If you had attended the virtual Winter Camp 54, this would make sense."
Steve continued, "I spread some of our deposits near cracks in the walls to attract these coprophagous creatures." Then he unearthed two of the candles and some splinters he cut from the door to skewer the bugs for roasting. They said grace by thanking the Lord and the bugs for their sacrifice.
Although the caloric content of the meal was marginal, the small boost of energy it provided enabled the group to continue work on their escape. By early evening, Leu was able to squeeze through the hole to freedom. Everyone shouted with joy as he set foot outside the lighthouse. He looked to his left and to his right in rapidly diminishing twilight.
Leu walked around the lighthouse to its rear. There he faced a dark figure with a weapon pointed in his direction.