Saturday October 9th 1982
The parking lot at Woody Hills Park was dark and empty. Andrew and Steven crossed it quickly, heading toward the woods. They sat down to rest on a large boulder near the entrance trail, and waited for the bullies to arrive.
“Can I get some water?” asked Steven after a couple of minutes went by. He was still panting from the hurried walk.
"Okay." Andrew handed him a bottle from the cooler and Steven started to chug it.
“Don’t drink it all!” said Andrew. “You’ll need some for later.”
“But we have plenty.” Steven took another swig, ignoring Andrew’s request.
“I know, but we should save some.”
“Fine,” said Steven, irritated. He twisted the cap back on the bottle and tossed it back in the cooler.
“I wonder where they are.” Andrew looked at his watch. “It's almost eleven.” He pulled out the charm Berta had given him to give it another look.
“Maybe they won’t show up.” Steven slid to the ground, leaned back on the boulder and placed his hands behind his head. “Wouldn't that be nice? Then we can go back home and forget abou—”
“Do you think she might like me?” Andrew asked, cutting him off, completely ignoring anything he was saying.
“Huh? What are you talking about?”
“Berta Moore. Do you think she likes me?”
Steven shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. Why?”
“She gave me this good luck charm.” Andrew smiled as he stared at it. “She could’ve given it to anyone...but she chose me. I wish I could keep it forever.”
“Oh brother.” Steven smiled and shook his head. “Why don’t you just ask her out once and for all? The Fall Dance is in two weeks. Ask her to go.”
“I can’t do that!”
“Ummm...I just can’t.”
It was exactly eleven o’clock when the bullies arrived. Andrew had hoped they wouldn’t show, but so much for wishful thinking. Both he and Steven jumped up from the boulder to greet them.
Neither Butch nor Shane were dressed properly for a camping trip, but at least they had enough sense to bring flashlights.
“Told you he’d be here,” said Butch, as he approached Andrew. “Never doubt a dedicated trooper like Harper.”
“Lucky for him,” Shane smirked. He glanced over at Steven. “I see he brought a companion with him.”
Butch shined his flashlight in Steven's face. “What’s pudge-ball doing here?”
“I needed a hand getting all the stuff here,” said Andrew. “Steven offered to help.”
Butch nodded his head. “Fine with me. Two dorks—I mean—two troopers, are better than one.” He swatted Steven on the back. “How’s it going, Jacobs? Ready for a long night?”
“Sure.” Steven stepped back. “Should be fun…”
“Okay, Harper, here’s the map.” Butch pulled out an old rolled up scroll, bound by a rubber band, and handed it to Andrew.
Andrew unrolled it to get a closer look. It was old and worn, but good enough to give him an idea where the cave might be.
“Where’d you get an old map like this?” asked Andrew.
“None of your business,” said Butch. He looked over at the other boys. “You guys ready?”
“Ready when you are,” said Shane.
“Okay then. Let’s get going!”
The entrance trail was a steep downward slope, flanked by tall pines and oaks. Andrew led the way, shining his flashlight and squinting into the darkness.
Steven was right behind him, pulling the cart. He almost stumbled over some shrubbery and stumps a few times, but managed to keep his balance. The bullies, however, had a difficult time, tripping over everything and falling down every few feet.
At the bottom of the slope a wide stream cut across their path. To cross it, the boys had to deal with slippery rocks jutting above the water. Butch landed on his bottom quite a few times, and Shane didn’t do so well either. By the time they reached the other side, the bullies were soaking wet and shivering. Andrew tried his best not to laugh, and lucky for him, it was too dark for the bullies to see his smile.
Steven was the last to cross, carefully pulling the cart over the rocks, managing not to fall down. The bullies couldn’t see his grin either.
“Harper, where the heck are you taking us!” shouted Butch, his teeth chattering from the cold.
“I’m following the map. This is the way we’re supposed to go.”
“Well I’m freezing!” snapped Butch. “Let’s set up camp and start a fire.”
“Not here,” said Andrew. “There’s no safe clearing for at least a mile or so. We have to keep moving.”
Butch, more angry than ever, said, “You want me to catch a cold you little dork? I’m soaking wet and it’s cold out.”
Cold it was indeed, and the weather had no mercy. It was Fall, and the nonstop winds didn’t help the situation.
“I’m sorry, Butch. We’ll just have to walk faster till we reach the clearing. It’s too dangerous to make a fire here with all these low-hanging branches.”
Butch growled, accepting his predicament, and the boys pressed on, till they reached an area of low, thorny thickets that slowed them down.
“What happened to the trail?” asked Shane. “Did you get us lost already?” He prodded Andrew’s shoulder to get his attention.
“No, we’re still on the right path. Just some shrubbery to deal with.” Andrew pulled out his pocket knife to cut some of the weeds, and Steven did the same.
“How much longer to this clearing?” asked Butch, still shivering.“I need a fire!”
“A little while more,” said Andrew. “We’ll get there soon enough. Faster if you help us clear this brush.”
Eventually, they cleared the trail enough to carry on, but they all had scratches and thorns sticking in their clothes and hair. And other than Butch’s constant complaining and some gusty winds, the forest was silent.
Andrew did his best to ignore Butch’s rants, focusing on the map and his compass, until they reached an area where they could only go left or right, and straight ahead was the clearing. “There it is,” he said, shining his flashlight straight ahead.
“Good! Hurry up and make the fire. I can’t take this anymore.” Butch was shivering worse than before, and so was Shane, but Shane complained a lot less.
“Don’t worry,” chimed in Steven, “Andrew and I earned our fire-making permits in the Youth Troops. We're both skilled at it and we apply the safety codes every time—”
“I don’t care!” snapped Butch. “Just hurry up and make one before I freeze to death.”
The first thing Andrew and Steven did was clear the area of any debris and low-hanging branches, while Butch stood there, watching them work. Shane, on the other hand, decided to help them.
When they were confident the area was safe enough to build a fire, the boys built a mound two feet long and a few inches high, made from dirt and rocks they'd scooped up from the ground. It was perfect for a fire.
After that, they gathered dry leaves and small twigs for tinder, and larger ones for kindling. They also gathered large fallen branches for firewood. Everything was done according to Youth Troop Safety Code, and Andrew was ready to light the fire—until he realized he’d forgotten something: matches!
“We have a problem,” Andrew whispered to Steven, hoping Butch didn’t hear.
“What’s the matter?”
“I forgot to bring matches.”
“Are you kidding?”
“No. I checked my pockets. Nothing.”
“Fear not, ‘ Junior Captain’ your faithful follower comes through once again.”
Steven smirked, though Andrew could barely see his face. He rummaged through his pockets and pulled out two books of matches. “Never leave home without them.”
“You really are the best!” Andrew grinned. “I’m so glad you came along—I owe you big time!”
“Ahh, what are friends for? Troopers forever, right?”
They gave each other a high five, almost forgetting about the two bullies, until Butch reminded them once more how cold he was.
“What are you dorks doing!? Make the damn fire already before I deck one of you!”
“Calm down,” said Shane. “They know what they’re doing, give them a break already.”
Butch glared at his partner in crime. How dare he talk to him like that! He stomped over to Shane, and got in his face. “If that fire isn’t blazing within the next five minutes, I’m going to slap these two dorks around and you’re going to help me. Got it?”
But Shane didn’t answer. He shook his head in disgust and continued to help the troopers. Andrew looked at Steven and raised his eyebrows. This was something new.
When the fire was finally started, all four boys stood around it to block the wind. They even roasted some of the marshmallows Steven brought, and for a brief moment, Andrew tried to enjoy himself.