This is my favorite story I ever wrote. I don’t care what anyone says. I love survival stories and medical stories and always wanted to write something like this. So here you go. I won’t look at it or edit it. I probably wrote this about 7-8 years ago.
Orange Pine Needles
By meghan chiampa
“We’re lost,” Bandi announced. Thousands of pine trees surrounded them. The forest floor was covered in orange pine needles. The woods were so immense and intimidating that Bandi had been picturing Jack and himself as fleas waking around the back of a beast with spiny orange hair and bark-coated spear-shaped growths like horns or Ankylosaurus spikes. Jack pulled a navy book of matches from the breast pocket of his vest and lit a cigarette.
“Why do you think we are lost?” Jack asked.
“We’ve been walking for two hours,” Bandi drew in air. “We haven’t passed the lake yet. This lake is huge, how could we miss it? We are not where we think we are,” he said, paranoid. Bandi’s ivy-colored eyes were blinking franticly behind his glasses.
“Lemme see the map,” Jack demanded. Bandi pulled a square of map from the breast pocket of his flannel shirt. His shirt was plaid, black and cardinal red and thick like the inner lining of a hunting jacket. Jack unfolded the paper map and pulled it tight between his hands. He tipped the rosy part of the cigarette away from the paper and pointed to the lake with his left hand.
“This lake?” Jack asked.
“We are supposed to be here.” Bandi pointed to a thin orange line that curved around the north side of the lake. “I don’t think we are on the trail.” Bandi concluded, shaking his head.
Jack was still looking at the map, worried and stern as if he was trying to see through it. They were both wearing enormous canvas backpacks. They had tightly curled sleeping bags attached to the packs with white nylon rope. Jack was carrying the tent. This was spun tighter then his sleeping bag and stuffed into a cadet-blue case. Jack threw all of this on the soft ground, shifting his arms and lifting the straps from his chest. His arms were thick and his hands had hair on them. He wore a light blue t-shirt under his puffy vest with silver buttons like rivets. Bandi sighed watching Jack move around. A silo-shaped thermos filled with water hung from the left side of his pack. It dangled limp and heavy and was the size of a buoy. Bandi started chewing his square-shaped nails waiting for Jack to say something. Jack looked around and dragged on his cigarette.
Jack insisted that they were still on the path. He tried to point out the obvious clearings between the pine trees but Bandi couldn’t see any clearing. All he saw were random jumbles of pine trees. The woods could be parted in so many ways, like strands of hair. Bandi said that the path they were on last night was worn by foot tread and there were broken branches and litter and clumps of ashy charcoal- the signs of people. The air smelled fresh and unbroken. Bandi could feel the pine trees breathing. Their breath was sharp, wetly poignant and lasting. He imagined molecules of pine tree sap floating into his nostrils and embedding themselves in hidden pockets of his nasal cavities.
Last night Jack and Bandi trekked through the post-twilight darkness in order to find a clear spot to set up the tent. Bandi had a magnum police flashlight, the big heavy metal kind that let out a thick band of artificial light. They had finally found a spot that Jack had considered suitable. In the morning Jack and Bandi packed up and began walking down what they thought was the path.
Jack had a map given to him by his older brother, Pauly. Pauly had camped a million more times than Jack but Jack had been camping a million times more than Bandi. Pauly had told Jack of an airplane that had crashed into the White Mountains and was never recovered. Pauly had found a map of one of the trails that was legendarily presumed closest to one of the projected crash sites. Pauly advised Jack and Bandi not to bushwhack because the trail was seldom known. They hadn’t seen anyone during their one day and one night. It was like a secret, Pauly had explained. People came from all over to look for the plane and locals would get upset with hikers searching for dead bodies in their backyards.
The trail was seven miles long and ran in a wobbly horseshoe shape weaving in and out of the many acres owned by a farmer. The only local acknowledgement of the trail was in the minds of a couple townies and hikers and a wooden pine sign at the entrance (where they parked their car) that read: Cobwebbed Woods Nature Trail –New Hampshire Nature Conservatory. The map was a photocopy. Jack wondered if Pauly had the original.
There was a large lake named Seahorse Lake that was located about four miles west of the farm. Bandi theorized that they were nowhere close to the lake. The pine trees around them grew out of small bumpy hills that gradually rose to an unseen peak. He imagined that the land around the lake would slope downward and flatten.
The amount of pine trees was boundless. The forest was speckled with elegant white birches, which reminded Bandi of columns of sunlight breaking through the pine branches. The woods were beautiful, sunny and immaculate. The sky was a gentle blue and it reminded Bandi of fabric softener. Flimsy clouds drifted above them carelessly dispersing like steamy cream in a cup of blue coffee. The sober blue of the sky and the sharp orange of the pine needles contrasted each other creating a balanced atmosphere that Bandi felt comforted in.
“Where do you think we are?” Jack asked, rubbing the burning end of his cigarette on the sole of his boot and tucking the snipe into his back jean pocket.
“Somewhere around here,” Bandi said and drew a large circle around the lake with his index finger. “I guess we can’t be too far from the lake.”
They had brought a compass with them but neither one of them knew exactly how to use it. It was a plastic compass with metallic innards. It was forest green with a traditional rose under glass. The red arrow bobbed and span as Bandi slowly rotated it in the palm of his hand.
“It’s that way,” Bandi said, pointing, as the needle finally rested, its red tip above a black letter N. “The farm is directly south of the trail. If we keep going in this direction we will have to meet up with the trail.” Jack looked at Bandi puzzled. Jack’s eyes were oblong and awkward. They were dark brown and drawn close to the bridge of Jack’s nose. Bandi sometimes wondered if Jack had fetal alcohol syndrome. At the same time his eyes were lustrous and sympathetic, like the eyes of a baby zoo animal.
“Look,” Bandi grabbed the map. “We must be in this area, or else we would’ve found the lake.” He poked the area inside the trail’s horseshoe. “Either way, whatever way we go, we’ll find the trail.” Bandi smiled and Jack forced a look of reassurance over his eyes. Jack didn’t think Bandi was making any sense.
“What if we’re not inside the trail?”
“Well, then I figure we’ll find the lake. We are on this side.” He pointed to the lake. “If we find the lake we can always circle it until we find the trail.”
This seemed to soothe Jack and he nodded. He suggested that they eat lunch.
Bandi and Jack went to the same college, but had been friends since they were thirteen. They met on a teen church camp retreat and had bonded over the fact that they were both forced to attend the same camp in the Berkshires by their parents. Coincidentally they decided go to the same university in New York City. They found out about their dual acceptance over the phone and agreed that they would be comfortable sharing an apartment with each other.
Bandi grew up on Cape Cod and Jack was from outside Syracuse. They saw each other over the summers and remained in touch through the mail and the telephone. Jack had been camping in the Adirondacks. Jack and Pauly would camp for weeks, hiking and getting fucked up. Bandi had been to campgrounds with his family and once with his girlfriend, but Jack had always made fun of him for this and said he was a pussy.
Jack had always listened to his older brother while camping and now he listened to Bandi’s advice on where to go. Bandi was smarter than Jack and Jack knew it. Jack lacked common sense. He was lazy and didn’t mind being told what to do unless it was demeaning.
Jack was prettier and in better physical shape than Bandi and Bandi knew this. Bandi was small and had the bone structure of a jockey or an accountant. He wore thin framed glasses with thick lenses. When he removed his glasses his green eyes shrunk into slits. His present girlfriend was the first real girlfriend he had ever had. His previous love life consisted of drunken one-night-stands where he would wake up in the morning alone. He thought that that was the best he could do.
“This fucking sucks.” Jack was frowning. He crooked a labeless can of refried beans between two granite stones and next to the fire they created in a small dug-out pit. The smoke was thick and the wind had become stagnant so the smoke rose out of the fire and loomed around Jack and Bandi. Bandi was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich his first real girlfriend had made him. It was soggy and the jam had leaked through the soft bread making the sandwich look bruised.
“Don’t worry, Jack.” Bandi said, slurring with peanut butter. “We have enough supplies for three days. We can make it out of here in three days. It’s a small trail and people walk it all the time. Right?”
Jack crinkled his forehead. He was wearing an olive colored baseball cap that had Charlie’s All-American Hardware stitched across the brim in gold cursive. His black hair spat out underneath the cap in licks.
“I don’t know,” Jack said poking at the can with a stick. The can fell sideways. Jack sat back and began nosily rustling through his backpack.
“What are you doing with that can?” Bandi asked, pointing with his skinny freckled arm. “Did you poke a hole in it?”
Jack nodded. A thin stream of auburn slime was trickling out from a hole in the top.
“How are you going to get it out?”
Jack shrugged. “I have a can opener,” he paused, raising a thick black eyebrow at Bandi. “Do you think I’m stupid or something?” There was a spark of malevolence in Jack’s voice. Jack lit a cigarette with his navy blue match book. “Do you have anymore matches?” Bandi asked, nagging.
“Yes,” Jack answered and used a dusty bandana to lift the can off the fire. “Why? What’s your problem?”
“Nothing, we just may need them for fires. You know? Can’t you light the cigarette on the fire we already have…” Bandi trailed off and was obviously intimidated by the sudden rising frustration behind Jack’s voice. Jack felt his intelligence had been insulted.
He loudly barraged Bandi with facts: He had been camping more than Bandi. He knew the mountains. He knew how to cook food over a fire ( with or without pots or water) and they had enough matches to make the fires for a couple of days and enough matches for his cigarettes.
Jack quickly and sarcastically apologized for not lighting the cigarette on the fire but he went on to tell Bandi that they taste like shit if you light a cigarette on a wood fire, its like smoking charcoal. He concluded that he needed the cigarettes to get them out of the woods. Cigarettes helped him think. They helped him gain composure and concentration. Without cigarettes he would be useless.
Jack carried on, yelling, and neglecting his can of beans. Bandi muted Jack out and watched the can that lay tipped oozing bean juice onto the orange pine needles. Bandi was reminded of book he read in high school about group of boys stuck on an island. He remembered with horror that they used the dead kid’s glasses to light fires.
They walked through the woods, ultimately going west. Bandi admitted a few hours after lunch that perhaps he had made a mistake and that they should have been walking in the opposite direction.
“Of course, you fucking moron,” Jack had snapped. “You’re gonna make us fucking die out here. Do you understand that?”
It was the first time either one of them had brought up dying, or at least not being found. Bandi kept bothersome thoughts like being helplessly lost and dying covered in warm, fleshy folds of his brain, protected and hidden like the upcoming arrivals of exams or dentist appointments. The bad thoughts and grim ideas would stay buried under pleats and grooves and creases of his mind until they were real enough to be uncovered. To Bandi they were lost, but not hopelessly lost like the boys on the island. Bandi was always better at forgetting the miserable than Jack was. A terrible situation would attach itself to Jack like a viciously spicate briar. It would dig into his skin until Jack found a way to pluck it off without injuring himself during the removal.
They gradually decided to walk southwest, hoping to cover more ground, remaining in the same direction, but not backtracking. They set up the tent at dusk. It was Saturday night and they were expected to be gone for two more days. It was Labor Day weekend. Jack had only told his brother about the trip and Bandi had only told his girlfriend.
“People will probably try to look for us after Monday.” Jack said.
“We’ll find our way back before then, don’t be so pessimistic,” Bandi told him.
“Whatever,” Jack grumbled. They were inside their sleeping bags. The rain-cover of the tent was off. The weekend was expected to be magnificent and warm. A perfect day for outdoor activities, the radio DJ had said. Bandi and Jack could see the stars behind the many arms of the pine trees. There were a million more stars in the mountains than in the city and it made Jack and Bandi feel incredible like they were falling in love with someone or like they just heard a really good song for the first time.
Jack woke up very cold and damp. It was raining. He shook Bandi awake and Bandi scrummaged to find his glasses as he heard Jack zip the fly of his jeans. Bandi’s hand skimmed the silky surface of their sleeping bags, his hand accidentally frisking tiny pockets of water. Everything was damp and soaking wet.
Their backpacks had been strung up on a tree outside to protect their uncanned food from bears. Jack darted out of the tent. The vinyl of the tent swooshed and beads of water dropped on Bandi’s head as he wiped the dampness off the lenses of his glasses.
Bandi joined Jack outside. Jack was swearing in short spurts and throwing soppy packs of cigarettes on to the wet orange pine needles.
“They’re all wet! Fucking Christ!” he shouted.
“Stop,” Bandi said. He hadn’t dressed and was wearing flannel pajamas pants and a T-shirt from the Hard Rock Café in Los Angeles. The backpacks were still strung up on the tree. Jack was reaching up, unzipping pockets and spilling rolled socks and can openers onto the ground.
“Don’t you have any unopened packs?” Bandi asked. Jack shook his head still searching.
“Why did you open them if you already have a pack open?” Jack spun around.
“Because! I was too fucking lazy to look for an open one. You wouldn’t understand. You don’t fucking smoke.” Jack was sniveling and filing through the wet shredded tobacco. He looked like he was going to cry but Bandi wasn’t sure because he had never seen Jack cry. Bandi cried often and Jack had seen him.
“What about the matches?” Bandi asked.
“I don’t know. I am sure they’re wet too. Matches dry, you fuck.”
The rain turned on and off all day. Bandi made a joke about clouds being unable to make up their minds but Jack ignored him and mumbled something about conservation of cigarettes. He had one pack in the tent, dry and smokeable. Jack insisted that they walk east, that west wasn’t working. They were going in the wrong direction.
The rain paused for a half-hour and Bandi and Jack made a fire and tried to get warm and dry and eat lunch but the rain started up again soon after the fire ignited. Bandi had burned blank pages of his journal because most of what they could find for kindling was damp. The fire eventually simmered and slowly died but Jack and Bandi had enough time to warm a couple cans of chicken soup. Bandi’s girlfriend had made them a big bag of trail mix containing all sorts of dried fruit and M&M’s and nuts. They ate all of this in glorious handfuls. It was Sunday morning.
Jack and Bandi walked mostly in silence broken by the sparkling swiping of Jack’s matches or the swishing of the electric yellow ponchos Bandi had from his family’s trip to Disney World. The ponchos had a drawing of Mickey Mouse with his arms akimbo on the backsides. Jack wore his poncho backwards. Bandi didn’t feel like correcting him. He felt like he was losing energy and all his energy should be focused on looking for the trail.
Sometimes he thought he saw people or a red sign shaped like an arrow but every time he called out, “Look!” his notions turned out to be oddly-shaped pine trees or pockets of sunlight mutating the orange pine needles. Jack saw a deer and screamed thinking it was a bear or a hiker. Bandi couldn’t tell if his scream was out of fear or desperation. The deer hopped away skittishly. Bandi told Jack it was a deer and Jack told Bandi to shut the fuck up and then reminded him that they were going to die out here. After the deer, Bandi and Jack had remained in silence for four hours only saying short quick words to themselves like, “Whoops” or “Oh, shit” or “Fucking pine trees”.
Then abruptly, Jack began telling Bandi about the plane they were originally looking for. Bandi had almost forgotten about the plane. Jack lit a cigarette and said,
“So do you want to hear more about the plane, or do you not care anymore?”
Unabashedly, Bandi said yes.
Pauly had told Jack that sometime in the Sixties a small plane went missing over the general area of the trail and the farm and the lake. It was carrying a newly married couple and a pilot. All three of them were never seen again.
Bandi pictured the couple and the pilot, their skeletons with flaps of flesh hanging off their bodies like tattered dish rags. He pictured the pilot in the cockpit, his skull dangling backward on its spine, his jaw open and his eye sockets darkly hollow. Bandi could see the couple in the cab of the plane, their arm bones so entwined around each other’s corpses that you couldn’t tell their skeletons apart.
Jack told Bandi that the search for the plane had diminished and began to grow a kind of underground search party. Jack pointed to Bandi and himself. He said that a few other hikers were lost while looking for the plane. Two were found dead and one was found near death shivering in the hollowed, rotten tree trunk. Jack called these people stupid and called Bandi and himself survivors. Jack paused and said, “I wouldn’t want to be lost with anyone else, Bandi.”
Bandi felt himself blush and turned his head away from Jack so he wouldn’t see his cheeks redden. He took this complement as an apology for Jack’s cigarette outburst and the day of anger that followed. Jack had never apologized in a traditional way. He’d do it inconspicuously, in an underlying code. After the resolution, Bandi told Jack that they still had enough food and water to last them until Wednesday if needed. He had figured this out during the silence. Bandi instructed rationing incase they expected the worst.
It was almost dusk when Bandi and Jack were hiking along the top of a steep hill. Bandi was having trouble focusing on walking, because the pine tree roots were very slippery with rainwater. He had fallen an hour earlier on a root and a layer of slime had been scuffed onto his pant leg.
For two hours it hadn’t rained and they had taken their ponchos off. Bandi walked with his arms outstretched like a child pretending to be an airplane. Jack was talking about the environment and smoking and following behind Bandi.
“They say in fifty years, when me and you are seventy, the sea level will have risen dozens of inches from now. Dozens! Do you know what that means for coastal cites and towns? Fucking Christ!”
Bandi was grunting his replies. He interrupted Jack and suggested that they start to walk down the hill.
“It’s almost dark. We should find flat ground. This is pointless.”
“You’re right.” Jack agreed.
There were pine trees running down the slope of the steep hill. Bandi hooked his arm around the base of a tree below him, immediately slipped and caught his balance by snatching onto a branch and pulling himself back to the trunk.
“Yikes,” he said through his teeth, looking wide-eyed at Jack, who also had his arms around the trunk of a tree. Jack smiled sharply and Bandi’s heart felt weak like he had just plummeted down the hills of a rollercoaster. The incredible rush of adrenaline was heavenly. He savored it and then hugged the tree tight. Jack was reaching over for the base of another tree beneath the one he was holding on too. Then Jack slipped backward. His arms swung frantically in the air like propellers and his body was thrown to the ground.
Jack was somersaulting down the hill. It was almost comical but too real to be funny. He was shouting and cursing and he was rolling so fast. Bandi could hear snaps and crunches of the breaking of sticks and twigs and little plants. He saw his backpack fall off and tumble down beside him. Bandi saw Jack’s body abruptly stop with a sickly loud crack. There were dark mounds at the bottom of the hill. Bandi couldn’t make out what the mounds were from where he stood.
There was a long, smooth trail of mulch and orange pine needles where Jack slid.
“JACK!” He cried, his head stretching backward and his arms ringed around the pine tree.
Jack wailed softly.
“Jack! Are you ok!?” he called, panicking. Jack wailed louder. His voice streamed from the bottom of the hill piercing and toxic like poison vapor. Jack wasn’t using real words, just screaming vowels. He was contorting the letter A, I and O into twisted, obscene sounds that Bandi had never heard before.
Bandi followed the sound of Jack’s howling and leapt cautiously from tree to tree. The trees were slimy and wet and Bandi was covered in greasy green moss residue and bark scales. He removed his backpack, threw it down the hill, letting it roll itself to the bottom. He ran and slipped and skidded, propelled by the slant of the hill.
Jack’s arms and legs were sprawled out like a Nazi cross, he was crying and filthy with mud and pine needles. Jack had smashed into a pile of dark grey rocks and decrepit tree trunks. Everything smelt rotting and dead like a swamp. Jack was screaming while slapping his hand against his left leg.
“Are you ok? Jack, are you ok?” Bandi pleaded. Jack continued slapping his leg. Bandi looked at Jack’s leg and let out a gasping “Oh, God!”
Jack’s leg was bent into a perfect right angle. There was a dark spot at the knee that seemed to be growing. Bandi assumed that this was Jack’s blood and he felt something sickly creep over his skin, cold and clammy like water.
“Fucking shit, Jack. Oh, shit, Jack.” Bandi started crying. “What’s wrong with your leg, Jack?” Bandi began to convince himself that the world was unreal. He had the notion that this was a dream and this would never happen in real life. This was something that happened in myths, in the past, like the couple and pilot on the plane. His brain was trying to protect him again. It was transforming reality into a fucked-up dreamscape nightmare. He tried to overpower his brain and think coherently.
He decided that Jack’s leg was broken and that he would have to look at it. Maybe it could be fixed or put in a makeshift cast or something. The sky was growing darker and Jack’s face was filling with shadows. His mouth was wide open and black. He told Jack that he was going to try to take off his pants and Jack screamed. Bandi wasn’t sure if he understood what he said but he unzipped his fly and slowly pulled his jeans below his boxers.
Jack started screaming louder. Bandi tried to hold his arm back so he would stop slapping him. He pulled the jeans down to Jack’s knees and tried to get his right leg through the pant leg. Jack screeched when Bandi bent his right leg and slid it out of the hole. Jack flung his arm out, grabbed Bandi’s side and squeezed. Jack was hurting Bandi tremendously. He tried to ignore it. Bandi carefully pulled down the left leg of the jean. Jack was whimpering and making scratching noises with his throat. Bandi pulled the leg over the knee and was instantly nauseated.
His knee was shining and drooling with blood and below the knee was a dark red protrusion, which Bandi automatically presumed was Jack’s leg bone. He could see the sticky blood flowing slowly out of the gash and down Jack’s hairy leg in scarlet gobs. Bandi turned from Jack and threw up a mouthful of bile. He spit and realized he was sobbing uncontrollably. Jack stopped making noise. Bandi thought immediately that he was dead.
Jack had fallen into shock. Bandi was hysterical. He was crying and demanding Jack to wake up. The sun had suddenly disappeared, as if it had flickered out and chaos had distracted Bandi from noticing. The space between the thousands of pine trees was thickly dark. Bandi thought of the Mariana Trench and the grotesque anglers with their hanging lanterns and rows of teeth like silver needles. Bandi found his flashlight and set it on the rotting carcass of a pine tree. A bright band of white light illuminated Jack’s face. His expression was pacific but the pallor of his skin was pale lavender. He was breathing in snuffs, almost snores but quicker and labored.
Bandi began to light a fire while running over to Jack every few minutes to see if he was all right. He would place the pads of his fingers on the gruff skin between his jaw and neck feeling Jack’s blood pump to his brain. Bandi had tied his shirts around Jack’s pantless leg as bandages. He had fastened his leather belt around Jack’s thigh as a tourniquet. He imagined Jack without his leg. He would still be his friend if he had to roll Jack around in a wheelchair. This was his own fault anyway. He heard Jack say once, (when he was very drunk on cheap vodka) that if it was three-hundred-years ago all the disabled people would be dead. He also had called people in electric wheelchairs robots.
The fire was incredibly hard to light. Bandi searched for what seemed like hours for dry kindle and big lively logs to fuel it. He had ripped and crumpled all the pages from his journal (even the pages he had written on) and used them to start a blaze. The fire was finally self-reliant and Bandi had enough light to set up the tent.
Bandi carefully dragged Jack into the tent, which he set up about a foot away from where Jack fell. He knew from school or a crazy uncle or a daytime special that you shouldn’t move people in shock, but he also knew, from that same far away place, that people in shock need to be kept warm. He couldn’t leave Jack laying on the wet orange pine needles without his pants. Bandi gradually placed Jack on his sleeping bag. Jack was making gurgling noises, like he was choking on water. Jack’s leg had bled through the three t-shirts Bandi had wrapped and tied around the gash and bone. The blood was creating wet stains on the sleeping bag. Bandi took off his sweatshirt and tied this around Jack’s leg, then he took Jack’s pants that he removed earlier and tied these around the sweatshirt. During the entire procession Bandi wanted to puke.
In the car before they started on the trail, Bandi suggested that they take the car’s first aid kit. It was a big white plastic box about the size of a six-pack of beer. Jack complained that the box was bulky and wasn’t worth it. He told Bandi to take what they thought they would need, like antiseptic and band-aids. Bandi had used all the wet-nap sized antiseptic cloths on Jack’s leg. He tried. The injury was soft and spongy and it made Bandi nauseated to touch it. Bandi zipped the sleeping bag up to Jacks neck. He put a winter hat on Jack and told him that everything was all right. He told Jack to dream about beautiful girls with bouncy chests touching him all over while he ate butterscotch pudding and drank Amstel lights (his favorites).
Bandi decided to make the fire humongous, then maybe someone would think the woods was on fire and they would rush over and help. He spent the rest of the night searching for sticks and logs and checking on Jack’s pulse and screaming “HELP! HELLO!” over and over again. But the fire never grew any higher and after an hour of screaming into darkness Bandi’s throat became hoarse and he couldn’t continue.
Bandi didn’t sleep. Less than an hour before the sun came up Jack died. The vinyl floor of the tent was slick with blood. Jack’s face was colorless except for his lips which were chapped and crusted and icy blue. Bandi knew he was dead because he wasn’t breathing and his blood wasn’t pumping up his neck anymore. His blood was everywhere.
Bandi sat outside the tent with his arms curled around his knees thinking about Jack being dead and how Jack was alive yesterday and how it was all his fault that Jack was dead because he made Jack look at him when he was slipping and he made Jack go down that hill when they could have kept walking and found a better way to find flat ground. He made Jack feel guilty for being mean to him. It was all his fault. He didn’t know what to do when someone goes into shock. He didn’t know. He knew that he learned it somewhere sometime in a far away place and he was so stupid to forget the first aid kit, it had fucking road flares in it, he knew it. That could have saved them. He shouldn’t have listened to Jack if he knew Jack was wrong. It was all his fault. It was Monday morning. Today was the day that they were expected back. But Jack was dead. Bandi eventually fell asleep next to the tent on the drying orange pine needles.
When Bandi woke the sun was low in the sky. The heat woke him up. He was sweating and felt his forehead burning. Bandi had seven seconds of clarity and unknowingness before he thought of the time. Jack had the watch strappeda round his wrist and he was dead in the tent. He had forgotten that Jack was dead and in the tent and he didn’t want to go back in there and look at him. It made him sick. He wanted to run away and find help, but this thought made him feel worse because there was no reason for him to find help anymore. Jack was dead.
He took Jack’s backpack and took out all the food and put it in his pack. Jack’s matches were dry. Bandi’s bag was half-empty because he had used all of his shirts as bandages, except for the one he was wearing, a red cotton t-shirt with a breast pocket. He decided to leave Jack in the tent and to look around. He didn’t want to go into the tent. His sleeping bag was outside. He threw the three bloody t-shirts in the fire pit. He put Jack inside a fold of his mind. He needed to get out of the woods or he was going to die too. He wasn’t going to leave without Jack either.
The tent reminded Bandi of a catacomb. He wanted to go inside and say something. As soon as he realized that Jack was dead he screamed in horror and jumped out of the tent, zipping it up furiously like an infectious disease festering inside. He hadn’t gone back inside since. He had screamed through tears all morning, “Jack! Jack! What the fuck!? WHAT THE FUCK?!” while pawing the entrance like a cat on a screen door.
He was going to look around the area. This was his Base, he thought. He threw on his backpack and started up the hill that Jack had fell down. In the daylight Bandi realized that they were at the bottom of a valley covered in orange pine needles and the rotting bones of dead pine trees.
Bandi walked around for hours, leaving a trail with a large stick. He used the compass and walked directly South the whole time, shouting out intervallic cries for help and eventually yelling nonsensical words like, “Shabba-dooo! Doo! Doo!” “Ergattttttt! SPINK!!!!!”
Just as Bandi noticed the sunlight begin to fade he spotted a dog leering between a set of staggering pine trees. It was a scraggily dog, with large, sharp shoulder blades. He called to it and whistled. It could be some hiker’s pet, his savior! The dog slowly walked over to him, its shoulder blades churning and Bandi noticed how slender its waist was. It was a coyote. He had seen them down the Cape. Bandi turned around and sprinted without looking back.
Bandi ran until his breath wore out. The sun was quickly turning black. The coyote was gone, or at least he couldn’t see it with the flashlight. He was frightened that he was lost. He was disappointed that the dog was a coyote. He was reminded of Jack dead and alone in the tent. He had to get back and eat, he hadn’t eaten all day. He suddenly thought of his first real girlfriend. He hadn’t thought about her in days. She was probably worried by now, calling his friend or something and finally realizing that he was going to stay another day. She was probably watching T.V. or reading a book in her apartment in Brooklyn a zillion miles away. New York was frosted and foreign like a dream he had as a child. The thought of the city made him feel lovesick and remorseful at the same time.
Bandi found the Base after an hour of following the tiny red needle. Jack was still in the tent. He lit a fire using the shirts and dry sticks. He lit an entire book of matches shaking, yawning and crying in spurts. His hands were filthy with sap and blood. He wanted to burn the shirts. It made him sad to look at them, bloody and stiff in a ball on the orange pine needles. The lycra or polyester or something unnatural was burning and floating into the air in tiny black feathers.
He shined the flashlight on the tent. It looked like something was eating it. There were little holes along one corner and he could make out a fist-sized tear. He could see into the tent and he could see Jack. He could see his black hair mussed and wet under the winter hat. He could see a pale moon-shaped sliver of his neck. He could smell inside the tent. It was putrid, like burning metal and trash and rancid meat and shit. The sun must have done this to him. Eventually he would have to take Jack out of the tent. He had heard about what happens to dead bodies. Everything falls out of them. All the shit and piss that their intestines were holding in falls out. The muscles don’t work because they are dead, so there is nothing to hold all the shit and piss. All the blood had fallen out of Jack through his knee. Bandi didn’t want to go into the tent and see this. He thought that it would get worse each day but he didn’t want to be around for each day, he wanted to be saved. By next weekend he would be starving and out of water, unless it rained again. He decided to wrap Jack up in the tent.
He pulled all the supports out and let the tent deflate. It melted slowly, letting out air in soft gasps, finally settling and creating a mound around Jack’s body. This way Bandi wouldn’t have to see him. He couldn’t see his friend even though it made him cry when he thought that he would never see him again. He was afraid the sight would snap his mind. He rolled the flaps of tent around Jack and wound the white nylon rope around his body. Bandi could feel the blood inside the tent as he wove the rope and tied it tightly at the ends. Jack’s body reminded Bandi of the bodies he had seen on the news, bodies of earthquake and plague victims in third worlds, faceless, graveless and horrific. He placed a large stone behind Jack’s head and closed his eyes, praying in whispers.
“Rest in Peace, my dear friend. Please let the wind carry your soul to wherever you want it to go and stay forever. I’m not saying heaven, but someplace nice, if there is another world besides this one. You deserve it. You were a wonderful friend and brother… ” Bandi had to stop because he was crying again. Bandi cried in huffs, choking on spit and sobbing. It was loud and messy. He knew very Jack wasn’t religious- he just needed to say something so that Jack’s death wasn’t forgotten or neglected. He couldn’t understand why he had to say it, it was like an urge as if he was slowly avenging his death. Bandi grabbed an armful of orange pine needles and threw them on the fire, covering the skeletons of the t-shirts. An enormous plume of smoke rose from the flame and Bandi was blinded by grey, stinging darkness.
Bandi fell asleep next to the lit fire and woke up to sharp barks. He jumped out of his sleeping bag. He was covered and sore from big bites, he had forgotten to spray himself with DEET. He looked around him and grabbed his flashlight even though it was early in the afternoon. The barks were snappy and familiar to him. He looked around nervously expecting a pack of coyotes.
At the top of the hill he saw the figure of a dog, like a shadow. The dog was larger and cleaner than the coyote and its shoulder blades weren’t jutting from its back. Bandi whistled and the dog came closer and stopped barking.
“Here, puppy!” he called.
The dog didn’t move. Bandi felt dizzy and his brain started unfolding. A real dog, he thought. That’s a real dog. He needed the dog to come to him. The dog would have people with him. Bandi began to walk over to the dog and noticed that it was a German Shepherd. Its ears were sticking up like tortilla chips.
“Here, puppy.” He cooed. “Good puppy.”
The dog took off in the other direction. Bandi dashed after it. He heard a man’s voice.
“Duke! What have you found?” The voice was bodiless and from a distance. Bandi thought of God. The voice was beyond the valley. He trudged up the hill, his knees trembling and his throat dry.
“Duke! C’m’ere!” the voice shouted and Bandi screamed, his voice breaking:
“Jesus Christ! I’m over here!!”