I promised you the rest of the story today (Wednesday, November 23) so scroll down to the bottom of this post and read Part 2 of "Pioneers in a Hurry".
And thank you for visiting!!!!!!!!!
Imagine three grown men off on their first adventure together. They packed everything they needed except "common sense". A boat, water and wind, too much booze and something to smoke.....what could go wrong?
This is one of my favorite short stories. It didn't happen this way, but it could've.
The story was originally shared on the Scribbler a few years ago. It has been published in my second collection of short stories titled SHORTS Vol.2.
This is Part 1.
It feels lonely where I’m standing even
though more than a hundred people are about me, divided and aligned by wooden
pews. The church is cavernous absorbing the low buzz of sympathy and disbelief
that whispers from the crowd of mourners. I can’t take my eyes from the decorative
urn that holds only ashes. The burnished wood gleams; the hockey player etched
upon the front reminds me of Robbie, the man that was my friend. The tiny tomb
blurs in my vision, memories burst in my head like someone threw a deck of them
in the air and you try desperately to see them all. I search for the one that
sparkles, of the time him and me and our brother-in-law became boys again,
pretending we were pioneers of a sort. It was a defining moment in our lives.
We were all crowding fifty. Robert was
the oldest, we called him Robbie and he knew everything, man was a walking newspaper.
He was average height, average build but there was nothing average about the
confidence his blue eyes expressed. He and I were friends before but by the
time the weekend was over we became great
friends. Our mutual buddy Nicholas, a slender and kindly man, was also our
brother-in-law as we all married sisters; he centered the veneer of our friendship.
He was the youngest, certainly one of the smartest. He usually always has the
best pot east of Vancouver. He’s the type of guy you always want to hang with,
the ones that keep you laughing. We called him Nick. My name is Randolph. I
We were loading the boat at the marina;
it was about 7:30 am on a Saturday, the first week of November. The sun was
hidden behind low eastern clouds. The rest of the sky was empty, topaz blue. We
joked about our good fortune with the sun about to burst out on our first
camping trip together; we had vowed to go rain or shine. I was walking back
from parking my truck listening to Nick tell Robby about the time he and I had
went winter camping. Every time Nick told it the weather was much worse and
quite a bit colder. The three of us were soon in the boat, Robby and I sharing
the middle seat of an eighteen foot dory. Facing the stern of the boat we could
watch Nick as he guided us out of the bay towards the nearest shore of the long
slender Island about a kilometer away, our adventure destination. Sailing under
an aging wooden bridge, Nick steered it through the rippling waters following
the starboard shore. Giving the throttle a slight turn lifting us and the bow,
he reached into his jacket pocket, withdrawing two similar packets of twisted
aluminum foil the size of a twelve year olds fist. He gestured for us to each
take one. He shouted out over the engine noise.
“It’s not too early to get high.”
Robby and I eyeballed each other, grins
splitting our faces. We didn’t need to be detectives to know what was wrapped
in the silver skin. He had rolled each of us twelve joints. Robby, upon opening
the flap exposing the twisted ends, look at him with a grin.
“Shit man, we’re only gone two days.”
Nick looked at him quite serious, his
face scrunched in concern.
“You don’t think it’s enough?”
Robby and I burst out laughing at the
man’s generous naiveté. He soon joined in not too sure what we were laughing at
but true to the stoner’s creed, it was probably funny. I opened up enough thin
slivers of foil to remove a fat doobie. It looked like a shrub. To understand
what happened next, a person would need to know that all three of us smoked
tobacco, Nick only smokes tobacco in his joints, Robby and I smoke cigarettes,
therefore when Nick rolled ours, he didn’t put any tobacco in. The pot was very
young, sticky, and potent but the damn stuff wouldn’t burn. Robby and I had to
light the uncooperative missile over and over. After three or four attempts
made worse by the breeze off the moving boat, we were cursing and frustrated.
Giving up we looked up at Nick who was smoking away, his joint half filled with
tobacco, burning like a good cigar. We glared at the red tip as it jutted from
the corner of his mouth almost falling out as he tried not to laugh. His both
hands were busy with the engine and the rudder. He was flipping switches as the
boat began to sputter and lose power. Suddenly it quit.
He addressed the engine in anger
calling it un-pretty names. Robby of course knew what was wrong telling Nick
what he should do. I watched the two, I didn’t know anything about engines;
they were as foreign and mysterious to me as Islam. Being Acadians they were
speaking French, it’s their mother tongue; I had no idea what they were saying.
It was the language they grew up with, I’m too dumb to learn and they always
talk English when I’m around. Soon the engine hiccupped and revved up. The boat
took off suddenly giving Robby no warning. He was half out of his seat almost
losing his balance. I grabbed him by the jacket before he crashed into Nick,
yanking him back. He was about to give Nick a blast to be careful when our
driver cut the boat a sharp left heading across the open water towards the
island rocketing him back into his seat next to me.
Right then the wind from the
Northumberland Strait livened making the water choppy and churlish. The prow of
the boat sliced and split the bulging waves making the tips mist in the stiff
breeze spraying Robby and I as regular as a lawn sprinkler. Nick yelled out
over the groaning of the engine.
“I can’t slow down, the wind is picking
up; we need to get to the island as soon as we can.”
This was said with much gravity but the
eyes were laughing at us. Still, we were inexperienced seaman so whatever our
pilot told us made us grip our seats a bit tighter. Ten minutes later we idled
to the shore on the leeward side of the island, Robby soaked on his left,
shirt, pants, face and hair; me the same condition but on my right, he and I
both slightly tiffed that the trip was getting off to such a cheerful
beginning. The boat soon scratched on to a hidden sandbar coming quickly to a
stop in about a foot of water, the beach forty feet away. Robby looked at me
and we both looked down at our feet at the same time. He wiggled the toes of
I didn’t say anything, I was wearing
hiking boots; they might keep out a little water. We then looked at Nick’s rubber boots, both
sorry we’d made fun of him earlier. Nick
stared back at us with red veined eyeballs and started to laugh, uproariously.
Robby turned to me.
“Bugger thinks it’s funny, he’s not
Only half of Robby’s hair was damp,
plastered to his skull, his skin was pale and I couldn’t help it, I started
heehawing too. The sun joined us just then, its crescent exposed by the departing
clouds. Robby broke into a handsome grin, began to chuckle.
“What does it matter, right guys?”
We all agreed we were there to have
fun. Robby and I unstrung our foot gear, balled our socks into their throats
before tying them to our backpacks as Nick stowed the engine and chucked out
the anchor. We arrived at the base of a twenty foot cliff made up of roots, huge
sandstone rocks, fallen and broken sod. We eventually found a route not far
away where water runoff had created a shallow path that would bring us to the
top of the escarpment we landed at. It took two trips for the stuff we had
brought, tent, cooler, sleeping bags, packs and our cache of “booze”. We were
very gentle carrying that. We joked about Nick’s sailing skills or lack thereof,
with him reminding us that it was his
boat and we should treat him with more respect or it would be an even wetter
day for us tomorrow if we had to swim home.
By noon we had secured a fine site just
above the same cliff where we came ashore. Our tent was pitched under the
branches of three robust spruce trees whose trunks spoke of old age. We had
cleared the dead limbs from their base; they would be the first of our
firewood. We could see the water but were too high and too far back from the
lip of the drop-off to see our boat. The ground was peppered with red and
yellow fallen leaves. We lined a pit with stray stones for the fire we would
make later. It was in a natural indent about five feet from a fallen tree on
which we had cleared the withered limbs creating a wooden sofa for three.
I can still see the tall skinny maple
trees that edged our chosen spot creating a porous canopy with their naked
limbs shattering the sunshine into dozens of friendly yellowish beams. The
crows were noisy and making a fuss as if we’d disturbed their peaceful habitat,
the gulls were complaining too. I remember watching Robby stop from digging
through his pack standing up with his nose raised slightly in the air; he
closed his eyes to take a deep breath and I mimicked him. Sap from thick
spruces and decaying plant smell seasoned with the salt of the water was not
unpleasant. I remember his tight lipped smile and how happy he seemed to be.
Nick was digging in his bag looking for
the lunch he had packed, Robby brought the salmon and I the veggies for later.
We each brought our own breakfast for tomorrow.
All morning we talked about each
other’s families; our kid’s accomplishments and woes; about our neighbours,
critical as ever and our wives with the latest trouble we were in or had just
been in or that was coming with me buying my uncle’s half ton without telling my
wife. Nick had set up a makeshift table with my now empty pack and a cheap
plastic tray he had carted along. He was positioning three thick roast beef
sandwiches on paper plates.
“It was so cheap and I’ve wanted a
truck for some time, so why would she be upset?” I said.
Robby usually had an answer for most
inquiries but this one thumped them both, they knew she would still be
provoked. We all agreed that women were puzzling.
“I don’t know, you gotta love them
anyway, I mean we’re not perfect either.” Nick said.
Robby who was cutting up the dead limbs
into fire size chunks didn’t agree.
“Speak for yourself, my friend. I think
I’m a very good husband!”
Nick raised his eyebrows at that
“Your woman’s so cool she’d make any
man look good.”
To be continued.......please come back on Wednesday, November 23rd, to read the rest.
Wednesday November 23, 2016
Pioneers in a Hurry - Part 2.
We all agreed and sat to stuff our
faces, munchies be damned. We opened our first beers; looking back, I wonder if
we should’ve waited a few more hours. It probably wouldn’t have mattered; after
lunch we re-rolled the bombs Nick brought, did several and that pretty well set
the pace for the afternoon. We decided to circumnavigate the northern portion
of the island figuring that if the hike was not too strenuous on “us old guys”,
we’d do the southern portion as well if we had time because we all knew we were
going to dawdle over something, none of us had been there before. We rigged up
the smallest of the three packs as our portable bar, six beers and a pint of
Southern Comfort, chucked in some granola bars and gorp, a bottle of water and
the first aid kit, we didn’t have room for common sense so we left most of it
The beach below our site was coarse
sand, packed and keen for hiking. Our camp was not far from a sawgrass covered
isthmus in the center of the elongated island. It narrowed to about fifty feet
from beach to beach and maybe a thousand feet long. Deciding to cross over we
would begin our trek on the opposite side wanting to see the minor cliffs and an
abandoned foundation from a house once located here, eventually towed across
the ice to its present location in the community Nick grew up in, Cocagne, New
Brunswick. Nick became the leader of our foray steering us through the swaying
fronds as tall as us, of brownish grass that was dead but not fallen.
We came out on a wider beach shaped
like the edge of a bowl; the sand was coarse also but much paler, almost white.
Mollusk shells of every kind cluttered the shore, thousands of pieces having
yielded to the rough tides and crushing ice of the bay. It was a mosaic of
broken white and oddly colored debris. Nick stopped halfway across, stared at
the beach for a few moments before turning to us.
“You wouldn’t have to be stoned to
Robby patted him on the back and made
reference to one of our oldest jokes.
“How would you know? The only time
you’re not stoned is when you’re sleeping.”
“That’s not true and I wish you guys
would stop that nonsense.”
I was tossing beach rocks into the
oncoming waves as I listened to them, the sun on my back. I smiled at their
banter; I’d heard the same insults many times before. The last rock I threw was
flat and almost round about the size of a coffee cup lid. It nicked five tops
of the foot high crests; a personal best. I headed up the beach towards the
windward side of the island.
“You two sound like an old married
couple, let’s go.”
I briefly took the lead. Twenty minutes
of poking at the sandstone cliffs, examining odd or fresh shells, kicking at
some driftwood brought us to a clearing on our left. The edges were not high
and we scrambled up to discover a rough stone cavity about a hundred feet in.
It might’ve been twelve feet square and seven feet deep, filled with wild
grass, a rusted broken wood stove, a mysterious old tire still on its rim,
rotting pieces of wood and dozens of stories. We decided it was time for our
first break and sat beside each other with our feet over one edge. Robby had
been carrying the pack setting it down beside me before he joined us. I leaned
back, removed three beers before doling them out. About to reclose the zipper I
was halted by Nick.
“Wait Randy; give us a little slug of
the SC before you close that up.”
I had a slight shiver as I thought of
the raw liquor but I grinned at the beer in my other hand thinking ‘chaser’.
We all knew the answer to that question
but we indulged nonetheless. After a two slug, one beer, one re-rolls
intermission we were off again. We had two more breaks before we finally flopped
down on the nearest empty space around our campsite three hours later. Robby’s
sneakers, socks and the hem of his jeans were clumps of brown mud and he
couldn’t have cared less. Nick only wore one boot, his other foot was bare
except for a ring of dried mud around the ankle, a piece of seaweed was strung
between the second and third toes and he thought it was funny. My boots and socks were all wet from when I
washed off the mud we waded through and it was starting to feel good.
Robby had his nylon jacket tied around
his waist and his long sleeved t-shirt was full of burdocks and he didn’t mind.
The knee was torn out of Nick’s new work pants exposing the scrapped and bloodied
skin of his knee cap and he thought it was hilarious. My shirt was torn on the
elbow and the shoulder and arm ached like crazy. All of us had mud smeared on
our faces from when we had been set upon by a squadron of wasps, Robby just
above the eye, Nick on the ear and me on my neck. It would probably be hurting
us but by then we were too drunk to feel anything. The empty Southern Comfort
bottle was sitting on the arm of a lopsided Inuksuk we had built on the beach.
We were soon dozing off exactly where we had come to rest.
I woke up an hour or so later, around
6:30 in the evening greeted by the smell of smoke. Twenty feet in front
of me, Robby stood poking at some hot coals of a small fire he had made. I
figured him to be still drunk as he wobbled staring at the flames. My movement
caught his eye and he spoke up.
“Where’s those veggies you brought,
let’s get them on the fire, I’m famished and wake up Davy Crockett there will
Earlier we had ventured off the shore
once and along the edge of the woods until Nick led us into the wasps, then we
had to jump ten feet to the beach with Robby tripping and falling amongst a
host of thistles before he jumped, Nick landing on his knees, one of them on a
rock, I landing on my side scraping my elbow and shoulder. We had to run
through a spring fed mire before they stopped pursuing us. The mud sucked one
boot right off of Nick, Robbie and I up to our ankles in slurpy slimy sludge.
The insects caught up with us there and it hurt! After that we started calling him
At least he got us back to the camp
site. My mouth was dry as the bark on the trees. I searched my bag for my water
bottle and drank almost half. I nudged our friend on the leg telling him to
rise. His mouth was hanging open and with a snort he shot up yelling to watch
out for the bees. As he shook his head to clear it Robby spoke up.
“They were wasps, they’re worse than
bees; the buggers can sting you more than once.”
Nick stretched, groaned a little as he
sat up shifting closer to our sitting log using it to prop himself up as he
watches the embers. He pulls a well-used baggy from his jacket pocket and
removes another joint, lighting it up. I was digging three foiled packages from
my pack that were wrapped tightly with a freezer pack. They were each the size
of a tin pie plate and contained sliced potatoes, garlic, green onions, butter,
fresh oregano and cheese. I separated the three and place them in the center of
the hot embers while Robby placed three smaller but similar wrapped packets
along the periphery of the fire bed as the salmon would cook quicker than the vegetables.
“That’s going to be good. I’m so hungry
I could eat the ass off a porcupine,” said Nick.
We all started to laugh trying to imagine
such an encounter.
“While that’s cooking I’ll go get my
He chucked the roach into the coals
between the cooking packets and it flared as the heat consumed it. He grabbed
another beer before passing us each one whether we wanted one or not and we
watched him limp away. Robby and I sat on the log chatting as he flipped the
packages over to keep them cooking evenly. We could hear the butter sizzling
inside the foil. Aromatic steam was escaping from the tiny holes we poked in the
foil. A half hour later we were devouring the tasty morsels as if we hadn’t
eaten for a week, while drinking the two bottles of Chardonnay we brought with
us. After our meal we staggered about the site cleaning up our mess, stashing
our garbage away before settling in for a night of friendship.
The sun was setting in front of us, the
sky blazing along the horizon. The light faded and night slowly filtered in as
Robby kept feeding the fire. He reeled about the stockpile of dried wood we had
gathered earlier, almost falling into the fire a couple of times as he whacked
the bigger pieces in to smaller bits. Needless to say we were quite inebriated,
stoned and blessed with a warmer than usual November evening. Through the rest
of the night we told jokes especially about the absurd notion of us becoming
pioneers in a world already discovered, offered each other useless advice,
confirmed our appreciation for each other, recapped our afternoon exclaiming
how much fun we had even with the bugs, laughed until our stomachs hurt,
complained of life’s quirks and toasted our wives twenty times. I marvelled at
the two men knowing then that I would want them as comrades for the rest of my
life. They told me the next day that I passed out first, Nick and Robby
dragging me into the tent, Nick stayed up for another hour until he crawled
into his sleeping bag boots and all, while Robby tended the fire until 1am
before he finally yielded to tiredness.
The last of my memory was disturbed by
the rustling of the crowd in the church. I had missed the mass and eulogies I
was so wrapped up in my recollection. Nick and I are pall bearers so we have to
accompany the tiny box with our friend’s ashes as we precede the crowd along
the main aisle. I couldn’t see clearly as my eyes were puddling. The last of my
thoughts as we continue the painful and final march with him was about us
having our breakfast the next day of our trip. Nick and Robby elected to add
hot water to the instant porridge they had brought while I waited for my
regular oatmeal to cook. I told them that they weren’t real pioneers to be
eating that gloop. I’ll always remember what Robby replied, it had become our
creed for all the other camping trips we had taken.
“Yeah, well we’re pioneers in a hurry.”