ERIC AND DYLAN GO TO SNOW-CAVE CAMP
“Yah, you said it, bud.”
Eric and Dylan begin the trudge to snow-cave camp. Required P.E. class at Lake-of-The-Woods High School. Wintertime survival. About ten years back, the enlightened majority of the school board decided that this was a good idea. The likelihood of being stuck outside in a sudden snowstorm was more than remote. Happened to some folks in the county every year. Forward-looking, proactive, that particular school board.
In a parallel universe Eric and Dylan lived in northern Minnesota. Same parents, same sense of isolation, and an affinity for the same wardrobe.
They still had access to guns, but things were different. The allure was not so bright. Guns were readily available to everyone. Most everyone hunted. Amidst the prevailing gun-toting uniformity, Eric and Dylan had to channel their mutually-felt sense of alienation into a different venue. But it certainly wasn’t snow caves.
“Be nice if we could bring some booze.”
“It’s probably just as well a coupla teachers are with us. Otherwise, we might hafta kill the jocks.”
“I’d like to kill that basketball chick.”
Laurie McGinitty, all six-feet three sinewy inches of her, had little tolerance for the likes of Eric and Dylan. They didn’t accord her the respect her position in the school warranted. “Slacker weenie losers,” she muttered to Karen Nyquist, the only other female student on this field trip.
“They told me about their website. I made the mistake of actually looking at it!” admitted Karen. “Pictures of heavy-metal band freaks with pages of their gibberish philosophy.”
They both giggled, and refocused their conversation towards the desirable males in the group.
“Hey kids!” “Campers!” “Gather around!” the instructors shouted. Ms. Nyquist (Karen’s aunt) and Mr. Pendleton addressed their troops.
“As you know, this is the final exam for ‘Winter Outdoor Survival.’ Each group of four will construct and spend a mid-winter night in a snow cave. Of course, nothing can go wrong. We’re here, with cell phones and emergency-dispatch numbers just in case.”
“Thanks for those of you who helped with the toboggans,” added Mr. Pendleton. “You’ll get extra credit.” Two toboggans with supplies had been hauled in. There was firewood and charcoal, food, camping equipment for the teachers, blankets for everyone, and a metal saucer-like fire pit.
“Okay, pick your groups,” said Ms. Nyquist. “Then each group will decide on the location for your cave. Once you’ve found a good spot, start digging.”
“When we’re all done, we’ll have dinner over a big campfire Ms. Nyquist and I will make.”
All the boys except Eric and Dylan wanted to be with the girls. Eric and Dylan stood by themselves, smirking at the jockeying and posturing of the others. The teachers decided:
“Laurie, Karen — you’re with, um, those two guys. Eric? And … Ryan?”
Everyone groaned. Laurie and Karen protested the most, but the teachers were adamant. The three boy four-somes, still muttering unhappily, shuffled out onto an open clearing. Beyond, past two stands of skinny trees, lay the grey and hazy expanse of the Lake-of-The-Woods.
Laurie initiated group interaction. “Let’s get it over with.” She turned to follow the others.
“No. We’ll build it up there.” Dylan pointed half-way up a small hill below a dense wall of trees. Laurie shrugged. She thought it best not to argue. She and Karen could sneak out and visit the others when it got dark.
Their shelter was pretty good. Eric and Dylan were survivalists at heart, and their partners were robust farm girls. Eric and Karen lay on their sides, rolling and tamping down an area of snow, while Dylan made a valiant effort to match Laurie’s trenching, digging, and then packing the inside walls and ceiling.
The teachers unrolled a tarp upon which they put a tent. “Cheaters,” muttered Eric. The other three snow caves, resembling igloo-like mounds arising from adjacent trampled snow, were nearby.
Surveying the scene below in the middle of the clearing, Dylan scoffed, “Looks like a demented Eskimo village.” True, the other shelters were arranged in a circle, in the middle of which smoke from the upcoming dinner-fire was beginning to curl upward.
Dinner in the gathering darkness. Hot chocolate, chili, hot dogs on sticks. And another of Mr. Pendleton’s failed attempts to engage the group in a guitar-accompanied sing-along.
“Nighty-night,” intoned Ms. Nyquist. “You should all be tired. Everyone has a blanket, right?”
The two girls and their cave-mates wriggled into their blankets. Laurie had made sure that there was sufficient space to separate Karen and herself from the other two. She was surprised at the care Dylan had taken to ensure that the entrance was located well below the chamber — so that their combined body heat would rise and remain trapped inside.
Nevertheless, she and Karen whisperingly plotted their escape. If word got out back at school that they had spent the night with the school’s geekiest slacker-nihilists, their prestige would suffer. Perhaps irrevocably. Dylan and Eric muttered continually at their side of the cavern. Karen was just starting to crawl toward the entrance when a loud crackling noise split the blackness. Screaming. Watery splashing sounds.
They all struggled to get outside quickly. Eric and Karen jammed together in the entrance. Laurie and Dylan pushed them out. They were in time to see the still-flickering embers of the fire pit sizzlingly extinguished. In the near-total darkness they could only imagine what was happening. Screaming and yells for help amidst the unmistakable sounds of splashing water.
“Those idiots were camped out on a bay of the lake!” exclaimed Dylan.
“The combined weight of all of them together must have broken the ice,” added Karen.
There was little they could do. The four of them made their way to the edge of the water, but by then all was quiet.
“I think we are the only ones to pass the final exam,” said Eric after a long stunned silence. Karen stopped herself from slugging him in the stomach, and, instead, giggled nervously.
Eric and Dylan and Karen and Laurie began the trudge back from snow-cave camp.