Zero Node: Chapter 9: "A New Hope"
by Jeff Rand
The chapter title could have been "A Bit of Foul Play" which would explain John's diversion from his own croquet court into foul territory and hence his drowning. It is too bad that he was suffering from synaesthesia and saw flashes of red rather than hearing the warning cries of his companions.
Of course the title "A Bit of Fowl Play" refers to the frozen turkey spectators for the match. Being harassed by a frozen turkey would bring back an unhappy memory for John Howey. For many years John served as the de facto leader of the Grey Area Goons, which originally referred to those Winter campers who were over 18 but not yet 21. For purposes of joining the armed services, they were adults, but not concerning the Order of the Arrow. That John was considered a Grey Area Goon well past age 21 was amusing to his fellow Goons.
The Goons had a reputation for sleeping in and missing the first Winter Camp activity of the day. When this happened some years ago, Jeff Rand entered the Clearwater Cabin to retrieve a frozen turkey from the refrigerator. That he decided to place it on top of John as he slept in his bunk, was not at all amusing to the Goons. Some considered Jeff's behavior to be goon like, and one should note that Jeff was actually of goon age during the first Winter Camps.
December 3, 2018
Need a refresher? Here's the Another Ten Seconds chapter
What had been a certain death for the travelers, now beckoned a new hope that neither had experienced since 1977. For it was during that time in a place far, far away that a galaxy saw a rebellion take hold. That unique event was to become the first Winter Camp.
As both Steve and Jeff regained their strength in the small cabin, they were sure to keep the fire burning. The cans of stored food would keep them nourished for many days; thirty they estimated. In the thick woods behind the cabin, there was a shed. It took some work to dig through the snow that buried most of the structure, but eventually they gained access. Inside they found a can filled with gasoline, perhaps twenty liters.
"We should be able to make use of this," said Steve.
"It will certainly burn," responded Jeff. "However, we'll need to be careful. The fumes could be deadly. If we can set our stove so that it vaporizes the gasoline before burning, it will become the most efficient source of heat. I had a backpacking stove that would burn unleaded gasoline in the same manner as it would with white gas."
Three days had passed, and the pair knew that they would have to leave the cabin, if they were to ever to leave Siberia for the unknown conditions on the other side of the world.
"We were fortunate to find this cabin. I know you won't believe me, but I think we were brought here by a special force. We have been saved. But now we must continue our journey," said Steve, breaking the silence.
"You surprise me with such spirituality. I have not seen you behave this way in the past," responded Jeff.
"Perhaps not, but I have guarded my beliefs, especially with you. Even back to my years as a youth, when you and others who were my seniors made mockery of me and suggested that I was related to a fallen angel," countered Steve.
"Such memories will not help us now." Jeff continued, "You are right. We must leave. As much as I dread the thought of suffering in the cold, it may become worse when there is a thaw and it starts the mud season. Travel will be nearly impossible then. And, of course, there will be hordes of mosquitoes."
When Jeff finished speaking, during a moment of silence, Steve thought he heard a sound outside. He had just finished dressing so that he could leave the cabin to collect more wood for the fire. Stepping outside, even with his thick wool gap, he heard a motor. He turned to his left, looking through the forest towards the river. Because his view was obscured, he departed from the small porch to get a clearer sighting. Upon entering a small clearing on the bluff, he could see the portion of the river with the remains of their camp. The frame was still there holding the tepee, now totally free from the ground and flapping in the wind.
The roar of the engine grew louder until two snowmobiles approached the tepee. They were too distant for Steve to discern the details, but he became cautious. When they stopped at his former campsite, he was glad to be far enough away not to be seen. He just hoped that the smoke from the woodstove in the cabin would not be noticeable.
A large figure and three smaller ones dismounted from the machines. While he could not be sure of their sexes, he assumed that there was at least one large male in the group. The smaller ones could be women or children. He had a refreshing thought that this was just a family enjoying an afternoon excursion. However nice that would be, it was most unlikely, given that he was trekking across Siberia surrounded by wilderness with pockets of devastation where there had been signs of human inhabitants. Steve chose not to make his presence known.
The snowmobile riders spent some time examining the poles and tepee. They dug into the snow as if searching for something and walked around the tepee in ever widening circles. Steve and Jeff had removed all of their belongings, leaving just the tepee and poles. Steve reasoned that there would still be a pile of firewood, and that they might find signs that a fire had been built inside the tepee. He worried that they could find a deposit of frozen urine.
The larger person and one of the smaller ones trudged to far side of the river and climbed the bank, finding the road. Two others approached his side of the river, becoming close to his overlook. When they reached the river's edge and encountered a steep slope with considerable vegetation, they aborted the attempt to wander any further. Steve was glad that the wind and fresh snow had eliminated any signs that others had passed this way.
After many minutes searching the area, the humans mounted their snowmobiles. Rather than travel together, one of them climbed the bank on the far side to join the road. The other was pulling a sleigh, presumably stacked with provisions, and continued up the river. Steve held his position until he no longer heard the engines.
Jeff was shocked to learn that others had passed their way, but agreed with Steve that they should not be seen, given what was at stake.
"Tomorrow will be an important day," said Steve. "We must be prepared to leave this wonderful place. But there is also cause for celebration."
"Celebration?" inquired Jeff.
"Do you know what day it is?"
"Wednesday, I'd guess," Jeff responded. "But I can't even be certain of the year."
"It is 2031," offered Steve, with a sense of conviction. "And tomorrow will be January 23."
"Really?" said Jeff in a puzzled manner. "Won't it only be the 22nd in the Western Hemisphere?"
Temperatures outside the cabin dropped drastically during the night, perhaps reaching the lowest ever recorded in the United States exactly sixty years previously. But Steve had stoked the fire and greeted Jeff with a "Happy Birthday." They enjoyed a hearty breakfast in the relative warmth of the cabin.
"I have a special gift for you," said Steve, as he opened a small can. "I found this can of strawberries in the shed tucked under some junk. Of course, the contents were frozen, and I regret that I cannot offer fresh strawberries."
"Wow! I'm glad that I did not have to follow through with the promise to consume you dead body. Instead, I'd even pay $135 dollars for a container of strawberries," said Jeff.
During the rest of the day, the pair gathered food and other provisions. They had repaired the sled and hauled it down the hill to the river, loading their supplies. They collapsed the tepee and placed it and the poles on the sled before returning to the cabin for their final night before departing.