North Dakota can be a lonely place...
|Jared’s alarm clock started annoyingly beeping at 5:15 in the morning. The alarm startled Jared, as it always had early in the morning. After shutting it off, he wondered to himself why he had set it in the middle of the summer. Now that his mother had a job, his family would simply hire other people to take care of their crops. Suddenly, he remembered the events that took place yesterday. Excitement plowed through him, and he shot out of bed.
Even though he was still half asleep, he ran down to the kitchen to get himself a bowl of cereal. After having had picked up a bowl, he grabbed some cereal box out of the cereal cupboard. He didn’t care what it was. He just wanted to get outside. He poured the mystery cereal into the bowl, which turned out to be corn flakes.
After having had set the bowl down at the kitchen table, Jared picked up a spoon from the plastic container sitting on the kitchen countertop. He sat down to eat, realizing he forgot to pour any milk or sugar on the cereal. Still though, he didn’t care. He wanted to get back outside.
Jared continued to follow his morning routine without interruption. He brushed his teeth, took a shower, and dressed himself as normal. As soon as he stepped out of the restroom, ready to get going outside, his father stopped him on his way down the stairs, still in his bathrobe. “What in the world is making you get up so early?” he asked.
Not really answering the question, Jared asked, “What time is it?”
Jared’s father was a bit irritated. “5:45 in the morning! What’s going on?” he demanded.
Jared, now a bit nervous, said, “That means the sun is going to rise soon. Bye!”
As Jared continued down the stairs toward the sliding glass door in the kitchen, he heard his father yell, “At least, you could take a radio!”
Jared grabbed one of the handheld CB radios off a charging dock in the kitchen. He turned it on and opened the sliding glass door. The summer breeze hit him as soon as he stepped outside. Jared pushed the NOAA button on the radio he was carrying. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration radio network began playing.
The robotic voice on the radio stated, “Today in Burke county: Temperatures will be in the low sixties, mostly in the morning, and should rise into the mid seventies-”
Just like that, the radio started screaming static. According to the NOAA website, Jared’s home was not in the coverage range of the radio signals. He was surprised he received anything at all. Jared pushed the NOAA button again, and it turned itself back to CB channel 33, the one his parents use primarily.
The sun was just starting to rise. Looking east, the sunrise almost looked like a distant nuclear test. It was still very dark outside, and the sky was a mix of dull blue and gray, like it usually is in the morning. It was at least light enough for Jared to see where he was going. He walked toward the storage shed down a long strip of grass-covered land where his tractor and some fuel tanks were stored.
Jared put his hand on the brass doorknob for the storage shed. A bit disoriented from waking up so early, he flicked the power switch to his left into the on position. An incandescent light bulb, dangling from a wire, connected to the ceiling, lit up. Making sure the door was closed behind him, he rotated the false hook 90 degrees counter-clockwise. Due to its position, it was difficult to turn, but the false wall swung open.
Jared quickly turned around and pulled the power switch back down into the off position. The light bulb shut off. It was still slightly dull outside, and Jared was slightly wishing he brought a jacket. He stepped onto the gravel path, same as yesterday, and shut the false wall behind him, making sure to lower the wooden bar into the hook, locking it into place.
Jared, once again, felt like he was in a completely different world. He started sprinting down the path. The red cloths that were tied to the trees seemed to fly past him. He felt freer than he ever had. While he was running, he went past a white bunny, sitting on the right of the path, gnawing at some vegetation in its mouth. Up ahead, he thought he saw another bunny, this one was black, only it was a lot lower to the ground. As he bolted past it, he noticed that it had a white tail. It wasn’t a bunny. Jared ran even faster as fear caused adrenaline to rush through him. Before he knew it, though, he was at the clearing. The sun was starting to rise a bit more now. He could see its bright orange light on the tops of the trees to the left.
Everything was beautiful. This felt like a second home to him. The lake was still. The boulder in the center of the lake sat where it was pushed yesterday. A steady, powerful breeze blew across the area. Most importantly, Jared was alone.
Yesterday, it seemed normal for Jared to gravitate to the lake. Now, he wanted to explore the dry areas of the clearing, under rocks, and inside bushes. Instantly, he turned right to look at the sizeable boulder against the border of the woods and basin. It was about his height, a foot in the ground, and in the shape of a rough cylinder. It was about as wide around as a tractor tire.
Other than that rock, there were a few smaller rocks and bushes scattered across the basin. Jared pushed and kicked a couple of the rocks over, only to find them fastened to the ground, or just everyday rocks. He kicked through a few bushes as well, only to find that a lot of them were dying or dead. The inside of the clearing was very sandy, so the soil wasn’t the greatest for growing vegetation.
As soon as Jared began exploring the east side of the basin, farther from the path, where the woods was strangely less thick with tangled bushes and plants, he realized, some of the trees were following the same pattern. They were sitting in rather sandy soil, and they were all dying or dead. Golden-brown leaves scattered the sandy floor. Many of these trees had most of their bark missing. A lot of them looked like they had been dead for a while. They were all missing their outer branches. Some were leaning against each other. Others had very oddly cut craters in the sides of them. It really looked like that if the tree was hollow, someone had punched it so hard that it caused a massive dent in its side.
Jared was a bit surprised he hadn’t noticed these trees earlier, given their odd shape and appearance. But, what was more surprising was that a rusty hatchet was sitting inside one of the tree holes. Jared, rather shocked, picked up the heavy tool. The handle was painted red, but rusting in several areas where the paint had chipped. The blade was completely rusted over, but it didn’t fall apart as soon as Jared touched it. He assumed that the metal was okay underneath.
Suddenly, an idea fired through Jared, causing his heart to skip a beat. He wondered, what if he cut down one of the trees that have a hole in it and use it as a sort of raft in the lake? More specifically, the tree he found the rusty hatchet in. The tree’s indent was facing away from the border of the trees and basin, so it would have been perfect to cut and make it land pointing toward the lake.
Jared stepped back into the basin, next to the tree he wanted to cut down. The sun’s light was starting to touch the floor now. Its brightness reflected orange off the lake and into Jared’s eyes. Jared turned so he could push the hatchet left and strike the tree where he wanted to. He pulled back, aimed, and struck the tree. The hatchet pushed deep into the brittle wood. The tree shook a bit, and then Jared pulled the hatchet out, noticing the cut the hatchet make in the wood. He took another swing, and then another.
Andrew’s alarm clock went off at 7:00 in the morning, as always. He immediately got out of bed and walked over to the kitchen to eat something for breakfast. He found a few scrambled eggs on a plate, located at his kitchen table seat. He ate quickly knowing that if he wanted to head back to this clearing in the woods, he would need to do his routine chores first.
After he was done eating, as usual, he showered and put on whatever clothes were in his dresser. He really never cared about what he wore, as long as they were clothes. After brushing his teeth and putting on sunsreen, he was ready to go outside, take care of the chickens, and harvest any new vegetables in the greenhouse. The chicken coop was right next to the house. In there, they kept six chickens. All of them looked exactly the same with their golden feathers. Because of that, they did not have individual names. Because the chickens were allowed to roam around freely, there were only two in the small shed. One of them was busy laying an egg. The other one was pecking at the floor for bits of feed on the floor. Andrew said, even though he knew it wouldn’t understand, “You need fresher food than that, don’t you?” He opened the storage cabinet that contained the dried corn feed and pulled out a half-used bag. After unrolling the empty part of the bag, he tilted it to pour a bit of the grainy mixture into the bowl the chickens ate from. Their water supply looked okay for now, so he didn’t bother refilling it. As soon as he stored the bag of corn feed away, he grabbed two dozen egg cartons.
Looking at the shelves where the chickens would lay their eggs, Andrew counted a total of nineteen eggs lying in the piles of straw. He started the process of carefully placing the eggs in the cartons. Whenever he accidentally drops one, it is usually a nightmare to clean. It was a very repetitive process, putting the eggs away and giving them to his mother. One of the eggs he picked up was still rather warm, meaning it was fresh. He put that in a dozen container, which was now full. Andrew finished putting the remaining seven eggs in the other carton, when his radio crackled, “Andrew? You coming over soon?”
It was pretty clearly Jared’s voice. Andrew picked the radio up from the case clipped to his right belt loop. Holding down the button to transmit, he said, “Yes. Let me put these eggs in the refrigerator, and I’ll be on my way.”
Andrew put the radio back in the case and carried the cartons of eggs out of the chicken coop. He walked quickly around his house and entered through the front door. Once inside, he walked through the mudroom and into the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator door with his foot and set the cartons full of eggs on top of the piles of egg cartons sitting in the fridge. Andrew immediately turned around and left the house the way he came in. The sun was just about finished with rising, at full brightness with minimal orange in the sky. Andrew walked across the street onto Jared’s driveway, once he was past the house, he was walking on the strip of grassy land between Jared’s corn field and property border, where a few fuel tanks and tractor were parked.
As soon as Andrew made it to the storage shed, he checked behind him to ensure that nobody was tailing him. As soon as he realized the coast was clear, he opened the door and flipped the light switch inside. The door closed behind him. Andrew had to figure out now how to get the false wall open. He knew there was a hook that needed to be rotated counterclockwise. He grabbed the only empty hook, this one located on the left, and pulled as hard as he could. It took some effort, but it rotated, and the wall swung open. Andrew stepped out onto the gravel path, pushed the wall shut and pushed the wooden bar, holding the wall shut, back into place.
Andrew felt a bit nervous being so isolated, but he remembered, he still had a radio if he needed anything. He started walking quickly. Andrew began to feel like he was in a different state. The change of environment released dopamine into Andrew’s brain. He started to run. The wind blew past him. His feet seemed to kick into a gear that has never been used. Andrew never felt so free.
Before he knew it, he was at the clearing. It was a little warmer stepping down the basin, mainly due to the lack of shade. But, a few moments later when the wind picked up, the temperature became just perfect. Andrew heard a sharp cracking noise, coming from the farther right hand corner of the basin. He saw Jared, swinging some object at a dead tree. When Andrew walked closer, he noticed that this object Jared was wielding was a rusty hatchet. This made him a bit nervous, as he has always been told to avoid using sharp tools.
Jared looked up and noticed Andrew was standing about twenty feet away from him. Jared tossed the hatchet at the floor and yelled, “Hey! You have to see this!”
Andrew, now knowing that Jared has been disarmed, walked toward the dead tree. Suddenly, he realized that there was a lot more than one dead tree. There was, in fact, a whole few hundred square feet of land, covered with about twenty to thirty dead tree trunks. There were almost no bushes, and the dead trees had almost no bark or branches. Most strangely, some of the trees had large, dome-shaped indents in the sides of them.
Jared picked the hatchet back up off the floor, and he said, “Perhaps, if I can cut this tree down, one of us could sit in the… uh… dent. Then, we might be able to use it as a boat.” Jared positioned himself and took another swing with the hatchet. Once he pulled it out of the tree, he said, “Oh! Not to mention, while I was taking a break, I ran home and grabbed the water suspenders. I thought you would want to have a look down the riverbank.
Andrew’s heart skipped a beat. He completely forgot about what Jared had found the previous day. “Didn’t you see some lake over there?” Andrew asked.
Jared took another swing at the tree and said, “Yeah. A huge one. It’s at least a few times the size of this clearing.”
Andrew felt torn. He wanted to see this lake, but there was only one pair of rubber suspenders. He would have to go alone. “I don’t want to go alone, though,” Andrew said.
Jared looked up and said, “Make sure your radio is tuned to channel 13. Transmit if you need me.”
Andrew felt as if that made sense. He bent down to open the black, hard-plastic case, containing the rubber clothing. The suspenders were packed tight, and the sprung out as soon as the case was opened. Andrew sat down and slid himself into the suspenders. It took some moving around, but his feet were quickly touching the bottom. When he stood up, he realized that the straps going around his shoulders were way too loose, so he unbuttoned them into a position where they fit snugly.
Andrew’s heart was pounding. He knew he would have to go alone. He waddled over to the lake and stepped in. It was an interesting feeling, being able to wade in water and stay dry. For the first couple of steps, the water didn’t get higher than his ankles. A few more steps, it was up to his knees.
Andrew felt the need to move slowly, in order to keep his balance. The last thing he needed right now was to trip. He continued to move toward the rock in the center of the lake. A soon as he was directly in front of the rock, the water was just below his chest. He pulled himself up onto the rock. As soon as he was on top, he realized exactly how huge the space was. Still, however, that became boring in less than fifteen seconds. On the other side of the rock, he slowly lowered himself back into the lake. The water was back to just below his chest when he continued walking.
Andrew was starting to wonder how much farther he could go. The suspenders only went up to his neck, and the water wasn’t getting any shallower. Andrew had to keep his arms in the air to prevent them from getting soaked. The suspenders were getting cold. They were not designed to insulate from temperature. Finally, he was starting to walk down the riverbank. Due to all of the low hanging plants, it was difficult to see down the riverbank. Even though it was very subtle, the water’s depth was slowly decreasing, and the river was turning slightly to the right. By the time the river quit turning, the water was down to his knees. More walking, the water stopped.
Andrew was waddling on dry land. He wanted to take the suspenders off, but the ground was still muddy in many areas. Still, more waddling down the dry riverbank, until, suddenly, the ground took a sharp incline. It was moving upward, at inclines ranging from 30 to 45 degrees. In the rubber suspenders, it was difficult to climb.
There was light up ahead. There was an opening. Andrew became excited. He wanted to see this lake Jared was talking about. He waddled forward faster, until, finally, he made it to the top.
If he had been running on his feet, he would have certainly fallen into the lake. The ground dropped downward suddenly. The ground angled downward at 45 degrees for a few feet, before coming to the surface of a lake. Jared wasn’t kidding. This lake was probably ten times the size of the clearing. Its size was enough to make Andrew feel light-headed, and then he noticed something. There was only a small pile of earth preventing the lake from flooding the basin down the river. Andrew felt even more light-headed, but he recovered.
Andrew reached down the rubber suspenders and pulled out the radio he had attached to his right belt loop. Holding down the left talk button to speak on channel 13, he said, “Jared? We got a serious issue.”
Jared was sitting up against the tree he intended to cut down. Exhausted, he picked up his radio. Holding down the transmit button, he asked, “Yeah? What’s going on?”
Andrew held down the talk button, and said, “This lake. It’s only guarded by a pile of dry soil.”
Jared had a feeling Andrew would panic about that. “So?” he asked.
Andrew was irritated. He thought this was a pretty serious safety hazard. “So this thing is practically a ticking time-bomb!” he yelled into the radio.
Jared, now a bit exasperated, said, “Well, don’t put any ticking time-bombs near it, and we should be fine.”
Suddenly, a random voice on the radio started yelling, “Kids! Go play your little games on some other channel!”
Jared’s voice started talking back, “Well, what are you going to do about it? Is it that hard for you to use another channel?”
The stranger said some things that, if Andrew were to say them, soap would have been put in his mouth. There was no more talking after that.
Andrew wasn’t just outraged by the hazard, he knew that it wasn’t safe to be standing on it. He waddled back down the dry riverbank. The walking and wading back to the clearing was uneventful, except for the fact that Andrew was terrified of simply existing in the area.
Finally, he made it back to the clearing. As soon as he stepped out of the lake, Jared took another swing at the tree. Andrew unhooked the straps keeping the rubber suspenders attached to him, and he slid out of them.
Before Andrew could vent his frustration, Tyler emerged from the path entrance. He yelled, “Hey! I heard that little spat in the radio!”
Just then, Andrew completely lost his temper. He yelled, “Are you actually going to ignore an issue like this? How stupid are you?”
Tyler, somewhat surprised, put his arms out in front of Andrew and said, “Woah now! Calm down. What’s going on?”
Andrew responded, “Put those suspenders on and walk all the way up the riverbank. You’ll see.”
Tyler looked toward Jared and asked, “And, what are you doing with that rusty hatchet?”
Jared responded, “I found it in a tree. I’m trying to cut down one of them. You have to see this.”
Tyler, now somewhat confused, asked, “How does one find a hatchet inside a tree? Is it hollowed out or something?”
Jared walked over to the area filled with dead trees, and Tyler followed.
Tyler’s eyes grew wide. He asked, “Was this here yesterday? What are with these dents in the trees?”
Jared responded, “I don’t know. But, I thought it would be fun to try cutting down one of these trees and using it as a boat. We could sit in one of the dents like a seat.”
It was obvious to Tyler which tree Jared was attempting to cut down. In one of the dead trees near the edge of the basin, there was a large, jagged, piece of wood missing from the bottom of the tree. Surrounding that area, were countless, small, sharp wood pieces. “Can’t you just push the tree over by this point?” he asked. “It already looks pretty cut up.”
Jared responded, “I can’t quite seem to get it. You can try, if you want.”
Tyler sprung into action. He bolted into the area filled with dead trees, and lined himself up with a fifteen foot, unobstructed path between him and the tree. Tyler charged toward the tree. With his arms out in front of him, he collided with it. The tree croaked and shook a little, but nothing happened. Tyler trotted back to where he began. Sweat started to run down the sides of his face. Again, he charged forward. The tree groaned a bit and shook, once again, but nothing too exciting happened. Tyler lay himself down on the floor in exhaustion.
Jared was a bit shocked to see Tyler collapse. He yelled, “Tyler! You okay?”
Tyler stood himself back up, panting. “I’m just … tired,” he explained.
Jared was relieved to see he was okay, but he still said, “Be careful. You know how long it takes for emergency services to respond out here.
Having had caught his breath, Tyler whispered, “One more time.” He got back into position, ready to charge. He sprinted toward the tree with his arms out in front of him. The tree was struck, hard. The tree groaned for half a second as it tilted, and then it released an ear-splitting, “POW!” The former tree trunk tipped over, leaving only its stump standing.
Now that Jared could see the tree more closely, he realized that at the top of the tree originally split into two branches, which had fallen off. But, the structure they left behind kept the round log balanced on the ground. Jared hoped that it would do the same on water.