by Joseph Cusumano
“Vic, I gotta go back!” Larry stopped, treaded water, and rested his right arm on the small raft.
“It’s too far.” He was breathing hard, but not panicking.
“We’re almost halfway,” Vic pointed out. They had been swimming for about twenty-five minutes, thirty tops, Vic figured.
“I won’t make it,” Larry said more emphatically. “You take the raft and get the food. I’ll tell the guys when I get back.”
Well, shit. Why’d you volunteer for this? But there had been an edge in Larry’s voice, and Vic didn’t argue. Besides, he felt pretty good and thought he could do it alone. And if I go back with Larry, they’ll think I’m a pussy too. Vic had almost asked Larry if he needed the raft to safely return, but that would leave no means to retrieve the food.
Larry headed back to what they called Greenland, the small island where he, Vic, Sam and Steve had been placed by the camp counselors the previous day. Along with their sleeping bags and other equipment, the four boys had been allowed to bring a one day supply of food. After that, edible berries, Northern Pike and Musky would have to sustain them for the remaining three days of the survival trip. With a month of camp under their belts, they were adept at fishing and knew which berries had to be avoided. Coach Schulz, the chief counselor, had left plenty of drinking water so they wouldn’t be dependent on rain.
The day before the survival trip was to begin, Sam and Steve had stashed extra food on Iceland, another small island in the large lake that meandered through southwestern Ontario. Iceland was a little under a mile from Greenland. The two boys had taken a small motorboat on a fishing trip and left enough supplies on Iceland to sustain all four of them for at least two days. Had he been ten years older, Vic might wonder why the extra food hadn’t simply been stashed on Greenland, but then he would have been too old to understand the explanation.
You can do this, Vic told himself. Stick with the breast stroke. Don’t rush. Relax. Breathe, don’t pant. Another twenty-five minutes and you’ll be there. And Vic, an excellent swimmer, was right. The previous week he had won the largest competition held at the base camp so far, a one mile swim followed by a two mile run. Vic didn’t brag about his win, but he certainly had bragging rights. He had won the event without being the camp’s best distance runner. That distinction fell to Steve.
Vic paused and rested an arm on the small raft. Looking back toward his starting point and then forward toward Iceland, he guessed that his swim was three-fourths complete. It was a beautiful clear day, not too hot, not too cold, and after a short rest, he began swimming again.
A week ago, Vic would never have imagined himself alone in the water like this. The whole idea sounded reckless when Larry, Sam and Steve sprung it on him while they dressed for an early morning run. They must have come up with this late at night after I’d fallen asleep.
And by rights, he couldn’t argue. After winning the big swim/run, it was logical that they had chosen him for retrieval duty. But why had Larry also been picked? Was the whole crazy thing Larry’s idea? Vic couldn’t come up with another explanation. Larry, already a smoker, was no decathlon candidate but may have felt he had to volunteer.
Vic reached the shore of Iceland tired but not exhausted. The stash of food, wrapped in a light blue tarp to keep it dry, was in plain sight at the edge of the trees where Sam and Steve told him it would be. Vic had first pick of the food items and believed he was entitled to it. He wolfed down a Snicker’s bar and immediately felt an urge to chug a large cold glass of milk. Of course, there was none. Nor was there any water. After a few minutes, he had swallowed enough saliva to re-moisten his throat and then stretched out on the beach to rest.
When he awoke, he was surprised to see the sun going down. Can I make it back before dark? Vic carefully wrapped the food in the tarp, placed it on the raft, and secured it with the rope that Sam and Steve had remembered to leave for this purpose. Too bad those idiots didn’t leave me any water.
Vic began the long swim back, but the sunlight faded more quickly than he had expected. Less than twenty minutes later, he could no longer see his destination and was forced to return to Iceland. A large bag of potato chips in the stash was sorely tempting, but would bring an unquenchable thirst, and for the second time that day, he reclined on the beach. Couldn’t they have swiped an apple from the kitchen? With little to occupy his mind, he stared at the heavens and was delighted by the sight of spectacular meteor showers, something he had never seen in St. Louis. Later, he untied the tarp and used it for a cover.
Awakening the next morning with a dry throat and an empty stomach, Vic was tempted to search for a stream. But since they hadn’t found one on their first day of exploration on Greenland, he decided to begin the swim without delay. The sooner I get back, the sooner I eat and drink. With the raft loaded and covered, he entered the water.
An hour later, his limbs lead weights, he stepped onto the sandy beach of Greenland. Sam and Steve were coming toward him, yelling something.
“What?” Vic replied, ready to acknowledge their admiration and thanks for a job well done.
“Where’s Larry?” they asked.
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Joseph Cusumano is a retired physician living in St. Louis with his wife of thirty years.