North Dakota can be a lonely place...
|The trek back to the clearing wasn’t quite as exciting as exploring it for the first time for Jared.
Andrew and Tyler waited patiently for Jared. Andrew sat on the towel, thinking to himself what they had been missing out on. As for Tyler, what was on his mind was dinner. He had begun to feel hungry after Jared left. Finally, Jared came out of the riverbank and started to walk toward the shore. Andrew stood up to greet him.
As soon as Jared was only a few feet from the shoreline, Andrew asked, "What was back there?"
Tyler had taken interest too. He looked at Jared, waiting for a response.
As soon as Jared was on dry land again, he said, "First, just let me get out of these things." He slid the straps off his shoulders and sat down. Putting his hands on the floor, he pushed himself out of the rubber suspenders. He then slid himself around and faced Andrew and Tyler, sitting on the towels.
"Well?" Andrew asked, waiting for a response.
Jared, a bit tired from the journey he had just been on, said, "There is this huge lake. I mean a lot bigger than the one behind me. The riverbank goes uphill pretty sharply in the end. Then, the ground drops sharply for a few inches into this deep lake. Only a pile of earth blocks the massive lake from the riverbank. If it goes, this whole place will flood for sure."
Andrew looked at Jared like he was telling some huge whopper. Tyler, was just looking at the floor, thinking about food.
"Can I see this for myself?" Andrew asked.
"Tomorrow." Jared said. "I got to get home for dinner. Can we all meet here tomorrow morning?"
“Sure,” Tyler said while Andrew nodded his head.
“Well,” Jared started to say. “Let’s get going.”
The sun was still bright in the sky, but the edges of the sky were clearly starting to turn orange. Andrew and Tyler both tried to give their towels and bottle of sunscreen back to Jared, but he only took the sunscreen. His other hand was busy holding the plastic, black case with the rubber suspenders inside. They all then started to exit the clearing, moving toward the path’s entry.
The path seemed same as before, as expected. The dirty, red pieces of cloth remained tied to trees nearby the path, and gravel was still nicely laid out. Andrew started to wonder if other people have been up here. To Jared, he asked, “Did you know that this place existed before today?”
“Not a clue,” Jared responded. “But, please, don’t tell anyone about this, at least until we can all get more answers. That shed was built in the late fifties with my grandfather assisting. He always kept a whole bunch of journals. Maybe, I should poke through them and see what I can find.”
The walk continued silently and uneventfully. Finally, after about eight minutes of walking, they made it to the back of the storage shed. Jared lifted the wooden bar from its horizontal position 90 degrees clockwise, and the wall swung open. Tyler was the first to enter. He stepped through and opened the door on the other side as Andrew was just entering. Jared gasped, quickly stepped inside the shed, and slammed it shut behind him.
The commotion was enough to make Andrew turn around and ask, “What’s going on?”
Jared rotated the false hook, and the wooden bar on the other side made a heavy thumping noise as it fell back into place. He then turned around and rhetorically asked, “Do you want people to know this place exists?
The boys then continued to walk toward Jared’s house. As they got closer, Jared said, “Just put the towels down on the front porch. I’ll take care of them.”
Andrew and Tyler did as instructed. They set their towels on the white-painted, wood surface of Jared’s front porch.
Tyler walked silently down Jared's long driveway with Andrew at his side. As soon as they both were ready to part ways, Tyler yelled, "See you tomorrow!" He continued to turn left and walk down the center of the road. He wasn't really worried about any oncoming or passing vehicles. The last time anything other than a tractor drove past his house was when a carbon monoxide alarm went off inside his house. He was about four years old at the time. It took almost half an hour before emergency vehicles responded.
The sun had just started to enter its evening phase, where the edges of the sky were starting to turn orange. Finally past Jared’s property on his right, he turned right onto his driveway. His three younger brothers were messing around with colored pieces of chalk on the black, asphalt driveway. They all seemed to look up and see him at the same time. Only giggling and without saying anything, the three children both ran over toward him and started grabbing at and clawing at his legs. Playing along for their amusement, he pretended to fall. As soon as the three boys felt as if they triumphed, they ran back to the pile of chalk in the middle of the driveway. Of the boys, none of them had red hair like Tyler’s. Tyler was 13 years of age like his friends, soon to be 14. His three younger brothers were seven, six, and six years old. Tyler secretly wished he was their age, so he could have some people to grow up with. Jared was always too active to be around when he was their ages. Andrew was really anti-social at the time too, so Tyler felt pretty lonely then.
Tyler walked inside, still pretty hungry. His mother was cleaning dishes while the 19 inch flat-screen TV played KFYR, NBC North Dakota News. His mother turned around, smiled, and asked, “Do you want some dinner? I saved a plate for you in the fridge.”
Tyler opened the large chrome refrigerator. It was mostly empty, except for the plate full of Macaroni and Cheese sitting on the bottom shelf. He picked it up and set it down on the wooden countertop next to the refrigerator. After peeling off the plastic that had been laid over to protect it, he put it in the microwave and pushed the buttons to make it operate for thirty seconds. Because his family had clearly finished eating, while the food was reheating, Tyler asked his mother, “Why didn’t you contact me over the radio?”
Tyler’s mother responded, “It didn’t look like you brought one.”
Tyler, not wanting to appear forgetful, said, “I was using one of Andrew’s. I had to leave in a hurry.”
His mother looked up from the sink. “Why so?” she asked.
Tyler responded, “Jared got this remote control quadcopter. I started chasing it off our property.”
“What’s a quadcopter? Don’t you need a license to fly one of those?” his mother asked.
Tyler, now becoming a bit annoyed at himself that he started the conversation, said, “No, mom. It’s like a remote control helicopter with four propellers.”
His mother looked back down at what she was doing and asked, “Where is it now?”
Guilt returned to Tyler, remembering the ping-pong table incident. He said, “The device controlling it lost power in mid flight. You might still find some pieces of it in their driveway.”
Just then, the microwave shut off and started beeping. Tyler pulled on the smooth, aluminum handle, and the microwave door swung open. He pulled the plate out and set it down on the wooden countertop before closing the microwave. After grabbing a fork from the wicker basket on the corner of the countertop near the stove, he sat down to eat.
Andrew split away from Tyler when he crossed the road to his house. The edges of the sky were now just starting to turn orange. He stepped onto his gravel driveway toward his house. A dark red minivan that they almost never used sat next to the small, old house Andrew had lived in since he was born, literally. Because his parents didn’t want to deal with hospital fees, his father bought nitrous oxide and a breathing mask off a black market dealer in Bismarck. After his mother took a few breaths of that, he was born on his parents’ bed. When he was a little over one year old, his father had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, the diagnosis alone resulting in a huge medical bill. Not wanted to put Andrew's mother and him in any more debt, he shot himself while Andrew and his mother were shopping for groceries. At least, they had a good life insurance policy.
Andrew’s mother always told Andrew how great a guy his father was, how he was willing to kill himself for Andrew and her. Andrew never questioned his father’s decision. He always simply listened to what his mother had to say about him. But, because Andrew has no memory of him, he became accustomed to life without him.
His mother doesn’t really enjoy shopping in grocery stores any longer. She may make a trip to Costco once per month, but she prefered to live on her own as much as possible.
Andrew stepped onto his old, unpainted, wooden porch. Everywhere he walked on it, the floorboards would creak. The front door was open, but the screen door was shut. The doors were painted olive green, but chipping in many areas. The door wasn’t completely closed. Andrew pulled it open without turning the brass knob.
The usual creek of that door made his mother yell, “Andrew! You’re back!” She walked around the corner into the mud room, and gave him a hug.
Andrew hugged back with one shoe still on. As soon as his mother let go, he took the other shoe off and lined them up together next to his mother’s. His father’s old boots were still sitting on the mat next to his mother’s shoes, like they have always been for as long as Andrew could remember.
Andrew’s mother said, “You’re just in time. Dinner’s ready.”
Andrew walked around the corner toward the wooden, square kitchen table. There, a bowl of tomato soup sat in front of Andrew’s seat. To the right of the bowl sat a soup spoon. Andrew pulled out his chair, sat down, and put the two radios he took down in the center of the table. The bowl was full of tomato soup, with a few bits of parsley placed on top. His mother sat down with a bowl and soup spoon of her own. They both ate silently.
After having had recollected his property, Jared opened the back door of his house, into the kitchen. His father was sitting at the kitchen table tapping at some strange device. Jared scrambled to hide his belongings behind his back. His father never looked up. Jared noticed, between his fingers was a shiny apple logo. Without looking up, his father said, “I thought we would get one of these things, now that we have faster, wireless internet. As soon as Jared was out of his father’s sight, he bolted up the stairs and tossed the two towels down the laundry chute at the top. He then walked down the hall toward the master bathroom, where he placed the sunscreen and rubber suspenders under the sink.
Even though Jared wasn’t very hungry, he wanted to eat something. He walked back downstairs toward the kitchen. His father was still tapping around on the metal slate. At least, half of it was metal. The other half was glass, covering a very thin screen inside. Jared opened the freezer and pulled out a box, which just happened to be the package for a barbecue chicken freezer meal. Jared ate those most of the time, since him and his parents were all too lazy to cook. While he was opening the box, his father said, “This thing is so cool. It’s called an iPad.”
Jared was honestly a little bit scared of the device. Seeing the bright, flashing colors coming from the screen and how it mesmerized his father, made him very anxious. Jared pulled the plastic tray out of the box and used his fingernails to puncture a few holes in it. He then put the tray in the nearby microwave and set it to cook for three minutes. Jared grabbed a fork out of a nearby drawer and sat down next to his father, who didn’t bother to look up. Jared wasn’t in the mood for talking anyway. The microwave stopped after three minutes. Jared opened the microwave, removed the warm tray, peeled off the plastic covering the food, and sat down with it to eat. The silence disturbed him. Maybe, having faster internet wasn’t such a good thing in the long run.