North Dakota can be a lonely place...
|“Well, what are we waiting for?” Jared asked. “Let’s get going.” He started to walk down the path.
Tyler and Andrew followed, both somewhat nervous. The path was pretty even when it came to quality. It was probably about five feet wide, and the gravel was laid out evenly, although it could have certainly used replacement. There were few weeds on the path. Those that were there were dying or decaying. The gravel did a good job of keeping them away.
A few moments into walking, everyone noticed something. A piece of dirty, red cloth was loosely tied to a tree trunk. "Well," Jared began to say, "I think we can all confirm that people have been here." After each piece of cloth came out of view, a new one was seen.
The boys walked for several minutes. The path kept moving uphill, taking occasional turns, but moving in mostly the same direction.
The boys have been walking for almost ten minutes now, and they were getting ready to turn back, and possibly grab their bicycles. But, suddenly, the path widened, and exposed a huge clearing.
Everyone’s breath was taken away. The sun poured into a piece of land, a bit smaller than Jared’s field of crops. The ground was made of dry silt and small rocks. It seemed like this place was a giant crater in the earth. A soft, cool breeze was blowing through the area, nullifying the heat of the sun. In the farther left corner, a small lake flickered in the sun.
“Is this real?” Jared asked before he ran toward the lake, following Andrew, and eventually Tyler, who just trotted, panting behind everyone. Bordering the lake, the silt was looser, almost like sand. The water was clear and clean-looking, with nothing obvious growing in it. The entire clearing was bordered by thick trees and bushes, except by the lake. The lake was the deepest part of the clearing. Bordering the lake and forest, were several tall boulders and a strip of sand, about two feet wide. Some of the boulders were at least eight feet tall and wide. Behind the boulders, the earth was clearly higher, as trees’ lower trunks were visible from where they were all standing. Behind the tallest boulder, it almost seemed as if the trees thinned out again. Perhaps, this was some sort of path?
The boys were all too stunned to say anything. The silence was broken when all of the radios crackled, “The tractor is out of fuel, dad.”
“Now what?” Andrew asked.
Everyone was silent again for a few seconds. “Maybe, I could climb on the little strip of land and try to see what is on the other end of the boulders?” Jared suggested. He walked around the lake toward the boulders. The ground appeared dry, but as pressure was applied to the floor with his feet, the ground would become a bit wetter.
Jared positioned himself in the small indent between the largest boulder and the one next to it. It took some maneuvering, but he pulled himself up so his head could peak above the boulder and see the floor. Only, there was no floor. A long, water filled, river bank stretched forward for a good distance. Because of all the shade the trees were making, it wasn’t possible to view the end.
Jared turned his head around and yelled, “Guys, there is some sort of riverbank back here.” He continued to pull himself up. There was a no land between the trees and riverbank. The largest boulder was only a few feet thick, but he still wanted to stand on it and see what he could do.
Tyler went around the lake the same way Jared did. When he got the the indent between the boulders, he grabbed onto an older looking root sticking inside the indent, hoping to be able to pull himself up. He tugged it a little to test its stability, and then he pushed down on it as hard as possible. It broke, and water came rushing out the hole it left behind. The approximately 256 square foot boulder started moving toward the lake. Tyler bolted back the way he came. Shocked and not really sure what to do, Jared stood on the boulder as it was pushed forward by the water.
Suddenly, water came gushing out from behind the large boulder, and it fell forward, causing Jared to fall backward into the water near the riverbank. Tyler, still on the small strip of land was surprised to see the water suddenly rising up to his knees. Andrew, about to yell at Jared to get off the boulder, even though it was too late, quickly moved backwards as the shoreline came forward.
The water pushed the boulder forward about 10 feet into the lake. Jared was pulled underwater, unable to control himself due to the rapid current. His breath was held and his eyes were shut tight. Even though it felt like an eternity, the water slowed down and Jared’s feet made contact with the soft floor. Immediately, he propelled himself upward and his head came out of the water. Finally, he could breathe again. He rubbed his eyes to get the water out of the way and opened them. The largest boulder was now nearer to the center of the lake, on its side with only a few inches of rock exposed above the surface of the water. Jared doggy-paddled over to the rock and pulled himself off. He sat on the wet, stone surface, his heart beating hard and adrenaline flowing through him as a result of his previous experience.
Tyler, more worried about his pants than Jared’s safety, slowly walked out of the water. He was drenched from the waist down. As he approached Andrew, who just stood at the new shore line in shock, his new gym shoes made a squelching noise, causing him to wonder how much trouble he would be in if his parents saw him like this.
Andrew didn’t believe what he just saw. Already, he pushed his comfort zone too far by entering the woods, but, now this?
Jared, knowing he has no method of transportation from the rock to the shore, jumped back into the lake and swam toward Andrew. As his arms and legs started to touch the bottom of the lake, he stood up and asked, “Is everyone okay?”
Andrew, not to pleased by Jared’s sarcasm, yelled, “Are you kidding me? I thought you were dead!”
Tyler, answering seriously, said, “No. My pants and new shoes are drenched! What am I supposed to tell my parents? Not to mention, I just ruined Andrew’s radio!”
Andrew quickly responded, “No you didn’t. Those things are waterproof.”
Jared pulled his radio out of the carrying case clipped to a belt loop and shut it off. “I should probably put this in a bag of rice,” he said as he held the dripping device.
Andrew unzipped his sweatshirt and took it off. To Tyler, he instructed, “Tie this around your waist. Take off your shoes, socks, and anything you are wearing around your legs.
Tyler was wearing jeans at that moment. He paused for a second, and then he said, “I never put any sunscreen on my legs. Jared, could you get some?”
Andrew also requested, “Can you also please get some towels for us to sit on, please? I think we’re going to be here a while.”
Jared responded by saying, “Well, I guess I sort of owe you two for all of this. I’ll radio you as soon as I get a new radio.”
Jared, still dripping with water, bolted toward the path again. The red pieces of cloth came back into view. About 20 feet into the path, he realized that there was an oddly shaped piece of wood on his right, propped up against a tree. It seemed to perfectly cut to be natural. He stopped, bent down toward it, and picked it up. An old, rotted piece of twine was loosely looped around a rusty metal hook coming off the top. Jared turned it around, and saw in bright yellow paint, “DANGEROUS LANDSCAPE. DO NOT ENTER. TURN BACK.”
Now, Jared was certain that there were people here at one point. “So, now you’re telling me this?” he whispered to himself. He propped it back up against the tree with the letters facing down and continued running. It felt like Jared was in a completely new world, now that he was finally inside the woods behind his home. A few minutes later, he was finally at the storage shed’s false wall he lifted the bar holding it shut, and it swung open. As soon as he was inside the shed, he shut the false wall behind him, and everything became pitch black. Of course, the storage shed was built before he was born, and he knew where the doorknob on the other side was. He grabbed onto it and opened the door. The familiar landscape came back into view.
Jared kept running toward his house. He opened the back door into the kitchen, where he then entered the pantry and opened a bag of rice. He carried the bag and set it down on the granite counter. He then opened a drawer and pulled out a ziploc bag. Jared emptied a little rice into the bag and put the radio inside. He then zipped the bag shut and grabbed another docked radio off another countertop.
Jared trotted upstairs and into the master bathroom where he could grab sunscreen and a few towels, while moving he turned the new radio on and tuned it to channel 13. Holding the talk button he said, “I got another radio. I’m getting the sunscreen and towels right now.”
Andrew’s voice crackled over the radio, “Nice. Thanks.”
After Andrew was finished talking, a random voice came on the radio, asking, “What do you kids need with sunscreen and towels?”
Jared, mostly absorbed in what he was doing, said, “Mind your own business, stanger.” He entered the master bathroom and opened the cabinet under the sink. The aroma of shampoo flooded his face as he grabbed a bottle of sunscreen and a few towels. But, then, an idea crossed his mind. In the past, his father used to go fishing in the numerous lakes around the area. When he went, he took these large rubber pants that would allow him to walk in the water without getting wet. Under the cabinet, too, they were stored in a black, hard plastic case. Grabbing them, Jared held down the talk button on the radio again, and he said, “On my way back.”
Jared walked with haste down the stairs and toward the back door. As soon as he got to the back door, he realized that he forgot to close it. He exited the door, and made sure to shut it. He then ran toward the storage shed and opened the front door, closing it behind him. He grabbed the hook he knew was false, and turned it 90 degrees counterclockwise. Because of its position, it took some effort to rotate. The false wall swung open, revealing the gravel path. Jared stepped onto the path and closed the false wall behind him. Now, he ran as fast as he could. It felt fantastic to him to finally be in this new world. His parents have taken him to Bismarck a couple of times, but he didn’t really like how crowded it was. The woods felt like it was the world he was waiting for.
Finally, Jared arrived at the clearing, now realizing that the lake had at least tripled in size. Andrew was tossing small stones into the lake while Tyler stood with Andrew’s sweatshirt tied around his waist. The ground felt looser as Jared ran inside the clearing.
Andrew turned around and smiled as Jared ran toward him, holding towels and a bottle of sunscreen. Jared threw Andrew and Tyler the two towels he retrieved and gave Tyler the bottle of sunscreen.
Tyler pushed on the greasy, blue cap, and it popped open. After squeezing out a bit of the slightly yellow substance, he spread it on his now exposed legs.
Andrew set the took Tyler’s towel and set both of them on the dry floor. Tyler’s lower clothes were drying on the floor nearby the towels. Andrew returned to his state of not doing anything, this time, having the comfort of his friends right nearby him.
Jared opened the case to find the rubber accessory folded up tightly. As he pulled it out, it sprung open, revealing two pant legs linked together at the waist, attached to two suspenders. Jared fit it on over his clothes, finding it was still really large on him. He grabbed onto the clips on the two suspenders, and tightened them around his shoulders. Because of how bulky they were, he couldn’t run. But, now, he could explore the riverbank. He was still somewhat damp from having had fallen directly into the lake, but he didn’t care.
Tyler noticed Jared was walking into the lake with a pair of rubber water suspenders on. “Don’t trip!” he yelled.
Jared had to move slowly in the lake to keep his balance. He wasn’t any more than three feet off the shoreline, and the water was already halfway to his knees. His goal was to make it to the rock in the center of the lake. The rate of depth increase decreased as he moved on. The water was an inch under the brim of the suspenders by the time he was pulling himself up onto the rock. There really wasn’t anything too exciting on the rock, but it felt exciting to be on his own little island.
But, quickly, that became boring. Jared slid himself off the rock, toward the riverbank. Finally, he would be able to continue exploring. The water came close to the brim of the water suspenders again. He continued to slowly push forward. The lake slowly decreased in depth, but certainly not as drastically as going the other way. The water had only gone down a few inches from the rock by the time he started to walk under the trees. The water was a lot cooler under the trees. Even though he wasn’t touching the water with his skin, he could feel the suspenders becoming colder against him.
It was difficult to see down the riverbank with many low-hanging branches and trees blocking the view. The water’s depth kept slowly decreasing. Once the water was down to his lower torso, the riverbank began to turn slightly to the right. This continued until the river curved about 45 degrees. The riverbank continued straight once the water was just above his knees. Eventually, the water was at his feet, and then there was none at all. There was only sandy mud that he walked in. After walking about thirty more feet, Jared noticed that there was an obvious border between the sandy mud and dry, hard soil that continued forward. The dry riverbank began to incline at a higher rate. After ducking under another tree, Jared saw an opening at the end with light pouring in.
By now, the incline in the terrain was at least 45 degrees. Jard treked upward toward the end. Finally, he saw it. At the end, there was a peak in the terrain. After the ground went down again for a few inches, there was a massive lake. The size of this round lake was incredible. The trees on the other side looked as small as carrots. The water was a dark blue, mostly reflecting the sky. There weren’t any people there except for Jared.
As soon as Jared’s common sense kicked in again, he turned around, and he realized that the only thing that was stopping this lake from flooding the clearing below was the pile of earth he was standing on. Jared stepped into the lake, noticing that it dropped off at a pretty steep angle as well. Remembering he had a CB radio, he reached into the suspenders, protecting his pants, and grabbed the radio out of the leather pouch attached to his belt loop. “Andrew, Tyler? You have to see this.” He said, as he held down the talk button tuned to channel 13.
Andrew’s voice sounded on the radio, “Why? What’s going on? I can’t walk in the river without a set of those rubber suspenders.”
“Okay,” Jared started to say. He was a bit frustrated because he didn’t have any other pairs. “So, the riverbank goes uphill before drying out. Once it dries, it keeps going uphill to this huge lake.”
Randomly, a stranger’s voice crackled on the radio, “Kids! Please go play pretend on some other channel.”
Jared, now remembering that the conversation wasn’t private said to the radio, “Whatever. I’m heading back.”