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Rated: E · Short Story · Comedy · #2197026
Joey's introduction to camping in a tent is more that he expected.
Glancing at the young campers seated around the roaring campfire, the counsellor swept his arm up towards the ink- black expanse of sky shimmering with millions of stars. He gestured at the towering dark sentinels looming behind them in the shadows.
         "In this very spot, sixteen-year old Gerald stumbled and tripped into a blazing campfire. Before any of his friends could rescue him, he pulled himself to his feet, and ran, flames consuming him, into the bush. They searched for days, but Gerald was never seen again. On the anniversary of his accident, it's said that people hear his anguished howling, and the forest glows with a red light. What the... am I hearing the tap, tap of a keyboard? Hey, Joey, is that you?"
         Across the circle, a boy staring intently at the glowing screen of a cellphone, shrugs.
         "I'm checking with Google, and your lame story is not real. A person on fire could not run very far, and wouldn't he set the trees on fire?"
         "Well, I wasn't actually a witness, but this is a local legend. Not everything is available on Google. Didn't you discover that earlier today?"
         Joey reddened as the others laughed. Oh yes, he'd made memories earlier all right. Google had not been the least bit helpful either. Pitching a tent did not mean throwing it away in a temper tantrum. He still felt humbled and perplexed by the experience. The blue nylon billowed and twisted as he struggled to get a grip. The long aluminum poles refused to be pushed into their teeny tiny pockets. Every time he dared to drop the frame to reach for a plastic peg and insert it through a corner, the uncooperative tent collapsed. The spindly poles flexed like an out of control Slinky. At one point, he feared that his shelter had turned itself inside out. Google had made no mention of how much exertion it took to wrangle a tent into submission.
         Amid calls of, "good night", and "see you in the morning", Joey hustled back to his particular blue patch. Granted, his home away from home did not resemble the other taut domes, but at least it still stood where he'd managed to anchor it. Surprising since his feet insisted upon tripping over the guide lines. Joey fully expected to pitch head first into his tent, but he executed a controlled entrance with bated breath.
         Shimmying into his sleeping bag, Joey noticed a growing, ominous shadow creeping up the wall beside him. He sputtered a challenge. Quaking, he spied the zipper slowly inching toward the ground. Through a miniscule gap in the tent's flimsy flap, the hulking shadow exploded. Joey shrieked as damp fur attacked him. He gulped in pungent doggie breath , and heard excited panting. Shoving against the considerable weight of his tent mate's dog, Joey found his friend pointing a finger, and stifling his glee.
         "You should've seen your face. I guess we scared you, huh?"
         Joey shook his head in denial, but Danny had seen the truth. Joey had been spooked.
         "Let's just go to sleep, okay?"
         Hours later, Joey startled awake. The steady snoring nearby reassured him. Shifting onto his back , and tugging at the tight folds of his sleeping bag, he glimpsed a smattering of night sky. Something flapped, and he realized that the tent door fluttered opened.
         "Psst, hey, Danny where's your dog?", asked a drowsy Joey.
         Danny only grunted in reply.
         Not wanting to get up and zip the flap closed, Joey decided he needed more sleep. As he drifted off, he had the distinct sensation of something crawling up his leg, something too small to be the wayward canine. His eyes snapped alert, and he froze. Yes, he could feel tiny claws inching along. His imagination churned into overdrive. What could it be?
         Joey croaked his pal's name to no reply. He hissed to arouse his oblivious friend. He really wanted to kick, or shake Danny awake, but he dared not move a muscle.
         "Danny," he yelped.
         Perhaps the tone jolted Danny awake. He groaned and sat up.
         "Get the flashlight, now!"
         After a bit of scrabbling and fumbling, a bright white light stabbed Joey's eyes causing temporary blindness.
         "Holy h-e- double hockey sticks!", muttered Danny, who then dropped the flashlight.
         At the return of illumination, Joey had to summon all of his willpower. His first instinct screamed at him to get up and run, but a calm reason ordered him to remain still. Staring straight into his eyes, nose to nose, a skunk, with the unmistakable white stripe adorning his spine, surveyed Joey closely. The critter's dark eyes glistened, and his nostrils twitched.
         "Do something," Joey pleaded.
         "L-l-like what?", stuttered an equally nervous Danny.
         "I dunno. Get it off me!"
         "You want me to touch it? Isn't it loaded, or something?"
         "Probably. Throw a shirt over it, and scoop it up."
         "Okay, but can I use one of your shirts? You know, just in case it squirts. My Mom complains about my laundry."
         "Fine, just do it!"
         With exaggerated care, Danny located a t-shirt in Joey's knapsack which he draped over the black and white furry creature holding Joey hostage. After a moment of clenched teeth and suspended breath, both boys sighed in relief. The skunk had not objected. Perhaps the invader could be evicted with minimal fuss. They signed to each other to count to three.
         At the mark of two, Joey felt a sudden wet warmth spread across his quivering leg. Oh no, he'd been sprayed! Assuming that the worst had happened, Joey sprang to his feet, kicking to free himself. With no warning, Danny , tumbled to the ground, his feet entangled in both empty sleeping bags. As he lost his balance, he tripped the frantic Joey. Both boys thrashed and struggled, not knowing where the skunk lurked.
         In their distress, Joey and Danny forgot their tight surroundings. Elbows and knees bounced off smooth nylon. Pegs hammered into the ground snapped, their tent no longer anchored. Poles buckled. Lines slackened. Oaths were muttered. The tent collapsed.
         A small crowd of dishevelled campers gathered in response to the shouts from the boys. They beheld a writhing blue mass. As they swiped at their bleary eyes and reached for their cell phones to snap photos, the spectators witnessed two heads pop out of their burrito like wrapping. Joey and Danny gasped fresh air. Tears streamed unheeded from their red-rimmed eyes.
         Coos of, "oh, it's so cute", rang in their ears. Squinting, they beheld the unruffled skunk sauntering away from them. If they had been able to do so, the friends would have glared.
         To add insult to injury, Danny's dog chose that moment to return and join in the apparent fun. He launched himself in mid stride to land on top of the stunned boys. He never missed an opportunity to wrestle, or cuddle, or lick faces, or do whatever. He liked camping. (1158 words}

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