Warning: This story is for 18 year olds or older and contains descriptions of sexual contact between teenage males. If it is illegal for you to read, or you find the subject objectionable, read no further. All characters are imaginary. I hope you like it. Mail me or visit Eliot's Space

 

Turbulence

Chapter 8, Paddling clear waters

YOU ARE IN BEAR COUNTRY

Cover of "You are in Bear Country" Brochure © Terry Willis

National Parks introduce visitors to a landscape that is uniquely Canadian. But these parks are more than scenic wonderlands. They are home to many animals that depend on wilderness areas for their survival. For some, like the grizzly bear, national parks may be the critical core of a territory that can extend far beyond the parks boundary.

 

If You Encounter a Bear

Bears are very intelligent and complex animals. Each bear and each encounter is unique; there is no single strategy that will work in all situations, almost all bear encounters end without injuries, especially if you follow some basic guidelines:

Stay Calm. Most bears do not want to attack you; they usually just want to be left alone. Bears may bluff their way out of an encounter by charging and then turning away at the last second. Bears may also react defensively by woofing, growling, snapping their jaws, and laying their ears back.

Immediately pick up small children and stay in a group.

Talk calmly and firmly. If a bear rears on its hind legs and waves its nose about, it is trying to identify you. Remain still stand your ground and talk calmly so it knows you are a human and not a prey animal. A scream or sudden movement may trigger an attack.

Don't drop your pack. It can provide protection.

Back away slowly if the bear is stationary, never run! Bears can run as fast as a racehorse, both uphill and down hill.

Leave the area or take a detour. If this is impossible, wait until the bear moves away. Always leave the bear an escape route.

Paddling Clear Waters

It had been his grandfather's idea that Daniel should go to camp. He had though that Daniel would benefit from the experience of being on his own for a bit and that his mother needed to have some time off from parenting. She was sent off on a two week trip through Europe and nine year old Daniel had been taken to the camp by his grandfather. His grandfather had taken him shopping for equipment, steering him away from unnecessary items and filling a brand new pack with odds and ends he assured the boy he would need. Daniel's proudest acquisition was the fifteen-centimeter camping knife. His grandfather had drilled him on its proper use and care. The camp was bigger and more confusing that Daniel had expected and it took him a few days to learn to find his way around. In time the rambling collection of log cabins scattered across the lake shore, held together as it was by a dirt road that led up to a massive log hall with a high beamed roof became as familiar as his own neighborhood. At dinner Daniel would gaze around at the mementoes of the camp's history. He was impressed with the two Birch bark canoes hung suspended from the high rafters.

Daniel fell in love with the canoes the first day they had been allowed to use them. After they had passed their swimming tests, their counselor had taken them down to the boat house and turned the experience into a game. He showed them how difficult it was to tip one over. The boys learned how to empty and enter a submerged canoe. They had wars, where four-boy teams struggled to swamp each other's canoes. Later Daniel learned the many ways to paddle and control the canoe. He did explore the camp's other attractions that first year. The sailboats excited him, but he realized they wouldn't get him away from the camp and out into the wilderness around them. His first overnight across the lake was an adventure he would try to tell his school friends about. It wasn't their thing so camp became a separate part of his life. The second year Daniel had struggled with the idea of spending the two weeks away from his dying grandfather. The old man had insisted and promised that he would be there when he returned. He had been there when he returned and his grandfather listening to Daniel's stories had helped to make the remaining time they shared happy ones.

Cabin Fever, Wednesday June 30th

It was still drizzling after the third day, but Giles said they were heading out in the morning no matter what it brought. The cabin was organized to go and Giles had let them start a fire in the fire place while he went out to chat with some of the other counselors. Most of the twelve boys in the cabin were chatting around the fire in the lounge area. Daniel was still getting the feel of most of them. He had bunked with three of them last year or the year before. He got along with them fairly well and had kept in touch with two of them over the winter. Daniel lay on his bunk trying to write a letter to Denver .

Denver ,

He had tried a couple of salutations; Dear Denver, Dear Denver and Mark, Hey Denver. They all sucked so he kept it simple.

The weather has been bad since I got here. We take our first trip tomorrow. We will be gone for 4 days. My councilor is named Giles he's okay. It's too bad you aren't my councilor.

Daniel paused and read what he had written. It was too lame for words. He'd have to burn it. He realized the best times he had had with Denver were when they spoke their minds.

Dear Denver ,

It's hard to get in the mood to write letters here. I wanted to let you know I miss hanging out with you. How are things at the Brass Lantern? Has Karl changed anything? He's a good carpenter. The guys in my cabin are mostly cool but you don't really know what a guy is like here until you are out canoeing. We go out tomorrow morning for four days. You should try it some time. It is fun. I'm going to go hang out with the dudes now. See you when I get back.

Daniel

He could hear the guys laughing in the other room and he wanted to join them. He slipped his anorak on and went out into the dark. The path to the mail box took him down the lane of scattered cabins set back amidst the pine trees. The rain made a steady patter on the carpet of needles beneath his feet. There were few lights to mark his way but Daniel walked with confidence. After he had dropped the envelope in the box he detoured down to the lake. The walk along the shore was a warn path. His cabin was about 50 meters from the shore line. The falling water on the lake created a soft roar that reminded Daniel of white water. The darkness wrapped around him and he paused to lift his face into the gentle rain. He loved the contrast of cold water on his face and the warmth of the fleece under the anorak. He didn't care about the rain. It was part of the pleasure of camping. Daniel gazed at the dark waters and turned back toward the cabin.

As he approached the back of the cabin he came upon Neil and Evan leaning against a tree. Like him, they had slipped away for a moment of quiet in the rain. Neil and Daniel had been in the same cabin the first year Daniel had come to camp. They tolerated each other, but hadn't really connected back then. It was Evan's first year. Evan had arrived with remarkably sensible gear for a rookie camper. In the way of things, the boys in his cabin were forming into little groups. Daniel had worried about this his first two years; being liked and sought out by the others. He realized he didn't care so much this year. If the three boys who had known him had been asked, they might have said he was quieter and less open.

"Hey" Daniel called out as he came out of the shadows.

"Hey Daniel" Evan replied softly. The darkness and soft rain made a person feel quiet and relaxed. "It's gonna be wet out there."

"Sure, but we got to get out of here." Daniel sensed he was interrupting a conversation so he told them he would see them later.

Back in the cabin he shook his coat off at the door and flopped into one of the heavy chairs the boys had pulled up to the large stone fire place. To boys accustomed to the ultra modern gas fire places of the city, the large field stone hearth was sweet. Everyone was staring at the open flames as they talked, each drawn to the ever changing flames. Sweet William offered a joke. "What's green and hops from bed to bed?" Will had shown up the first day with a survival pack of candy.

"What?" Mustafa asked obligingly.

"A prostitoad!" the group grunted its approval. There was silence while everyone waited for someone to think of another. William offered another one. "What do you get when you cross a leprechaun and a prostitute?" nobody asked this time. "A little green fucker!" That got him a couple of chuckles. Don spoke up.

"Why do girls have legs?" Someone asked why. "So they don't leave a slimy trail when they move." Daniel was repelled by the joke.

"Not cool" someone replied. This led to an uncomfortable silence. Daniel spoke up.

"A tall Texan was drinking at a bar one day. After a few beers he had to take a piss. He walked up to the urinal and started to piss. Just as he was getting going this midget came into the bathroom. He walked up to the urinal and the Texan saw that he was too short. The midget saw a box in the corner and brought it over next to the Texan. He climbed on the box and started to take a piss."

"Why was there a box in the bathroom?"

"Jesus who cares?"

Daniel continued his story. "The Texan was just finishing up his piss and shaking off when he noticed the midget looking at his dick."

"Faggot"

"Shut up"

"The midget looked up at the Texan and said, gee Mister you have a really long dick." Daniel gave the midget a high voice. "The Texan was embarrassed but all he said was yep." Daniel gave his Texan a long drawl. "The midget looked down and then said, boy you have nice balls. Can I hold one of your balls mister? The Texan wasn't sure he liked the idea but the midget pleaded with him so he let the midget hold one of his balls." Daniel held his hand up as if he was cupping a big ball. The other boys watched him patiently knowing there was a punch-line coming. "So they stood like that for a while until the midget said, I sure would like to hold your other ball mister. Well the Texan didn't like that any better but the little guy pleaded so much that he gave in. The moment the midget had his hands on both balls he looked up at the Texan and growled, Okay give me all your money or I jump." The boys sat back in their chairs groaning.

"Did he get the money?"

"It's a fucking joke, who cares?" The boys sat in companionable silence watching the fire until someone thought of the next joke.

The quality of a man, Thursday July 1st

Giles walked up to where Daniel was squatting against a pine eating crackers and a hunk of summer sausage. He knelt in the wet needles next to him, rain dripping off the brim of his cap. "Daniel I'm switching you into the canoe with Neil and Evan." Daniel lifted an eyebrow at the eighteen-year old but kept munching his trail lunch. The counselor took a quick glance around before continuing. "Darcy isn't getting along with them and they aren't keeping up with the other canoes. Don't bother to shift your stuff." Giles got up to pack up the remains of the lunch. He thought, "At least that's one kid who doesn't wine and complain all the time." Giles had finished his first year of Education and was feeling less compassionate toward adolescents. He had started the trip with Daniel in his canoe. The kid had a strong stroke and hadn't sulked about being alone with the adult while everyone else got to laugh and chatter amongst themselves. He'd been quiet, so Giles had left him to his thoughts. Daniel and he had made a connection when they had fallen behind to wait for fifth canoe to catch up. Daniel had suddenly turned around in his place at the bow, tapped his paddle on the load to get Giles attention and pointed at a pair of deer down on the bank. Giles had nodded back in silence and Daniel's eyes had shone with bliss and a smile broke over his face. Giles watched him pause to watch the animals, and then return to the slow rhythm of the stroke Giles had set. Giles had thought that that moment probably paid him back for all the crap he would have to take from the boys the rest of that day. Maybe I want to see a kid smile like that at me in a classroom he thought.

Daniel shifted into the bow of Neil's canoe and Evan settled into the duffer spot just in front of the loads. Evan's inexperience and Neil and Darcy's feuding had made it an unhappy canoe during the morning. Darcy made some uncalled for remarks as he got into Giles' canoe. It set everyone else on edge because it would be along trip if the bickering got out of control. Neil and Daniel remembered each other's strengths and kept their canoe in the lead during the afternoon. "Thanks for switching canoes" Neil commented as if it had been Daniel's choice.

The first day was an easy trip down stream to get the boys into condition for the harder middle run across an open lake and up a slow river to a major portage. After that the trip would ease off with down stream runs, light rapids and a long pull for the camp. At first the river had seemed as crowded as an interstate as different groups launched from the same park landing. For a time they traveled along with a mixed group of fifteen and sixteen year olds. The stronger group finally began to pull ahead and they seemed to be alone on the river until they began passing groups stopped for lunch. The river was smooth as glass and the canoe traveled quickly in the current. They kept to the center to take advantage of the strongest currents and avoid the black flies. Daniel kept silent as the two other boys chatted between themselves. Daniel's hands were beginning to blister. He didn't mind. He became an explorer lost in the wilderness traveling to the next Native village. They would not know his language, but they would connect with sign language and he would learn about the path ahead. Sometimes he would be invited to pause in his journey and stay with the chief and his daughter. But after one night of passion he would be on his way. Daniel thought the chief's daughter looked a lot like Mandy. He was wet and his hands were cold, but he smiled to himself.

The five canoes were now traveling in a group. Mustafa and Sweet William had a canoe to themselves and Daniel and Neil engaged them in a silent contest to hold the lead. Neither team wanted to burn themselves out in a race so it was more a matter of pushing the bow out a little beyond the other. The boys in the other canoe were mostly silent as they paddled. Daniel realized they had steadily pulled ahead of the other three canoes when Mustafa finally broke the silence by suggesting they let the canoes drift for a while to let the other three catch up. The two canoes drifted together and the boys held them together with their hands on the gunwales. Daniel rested his paddle across the canoe and dug into his anorak. "Hungry?" he asked Mustafa sitting across from him in the other canoe. He pulled out his knife and split the large hunk of sausage he had saved from lunch. He handed half to Mustafa and did the same thing with some cheddar cheese.

"Hey thanks"

"Gotta think ahead boy" Daniel turned and asked Evan if he wanted any. He passed some of his share back to the boy.

"Let's switch places" Neil suggested. Daniel didn't like changing around in mid stream, but he knew Evan needed a chance to get out of the bottom of the canoe. "You take the back Daniel and I'll duff." Daniel and Sweet William orchestrated a switch where Daniel got into the middle of their canoe and Evan climbed forward. Neil climbed over the packs to settle into the center and then Daniel shifted into the back of his own canoe. The others had caught up by this point and the four boys resumed paddling. Neil was content to let Daniel and Mustafa give Evan advice on how to handle his paddle. Daniel enjoyed the control that came with being in the back.

He was less happy with the arrangement when Giles called out to the other canoes that there was a light rapid coming up and that they should follow him in a line. Daniel and Evan back watered while the other canoes pulled ahead. Daniel figured Evan would benefit from seeing the others negotiate whatever was coming before he had to try it. Mustafa and Sweet William held back for a minute while Mustafa gave Evan a quick refresher on his job as bowman. The two kneeled in the canoe to get closer to the bow. Then other canoe pulled ahead to follow the leader.

Evan glanced back at Neil and Daniel for reassurance. He hated being the inexperienced one. Daniel had been so quiet in the canoe that Evan didn't know how to read him. Neil told him not to worry, but it was Daniel who helped the most. He just continued his slow powerful strokes and commented in a matter of fact manner, "Just keep us off the rocks and snags. I won't be able to see them from back here." When Evan saw the stretch of rapids he felt a rush of fear. Then he calmed himself and applied his paddle to the water roiling about the bow of the canoe. The canoe headed straight for a dark log head barely breaking the surface. Evan's paddle bit into the froth and he held it ridged fighting the turmoil and drag. The canoe responded to the right bow rudder and it slipped past the first threat. After he steered it around the first snag he felt a burst of confidence. Knowing he had control of the aluminum canoe now, he gazed ahead to trace the path Giles was following. With the extra time to think he was able to follow the lead better and while the other canoes tended to follow their own paths he kept their canoe in the safest spots. By the final dip into a trough and the spray filled rise onto the crest Evan was feeling exhilarated. During the short run through the troughs and crests it was not Neil's whoops of encouragement and pointless advice that helped Evan. It was Daniel's quiet presence at the back of the canoe. After they cleared the raids he heard a voice "That was a rush wasn't it?" Evan turned back and they shared a smile.

"Are there better rapids ahead?"

"I think so. Let's get the lead back." Evan worked to fit into the rhythm Daniel established at the back.

Giles kept them going till they entered the lake. The boys were tired. Even Mustafa and Garth, the strongest boys in the group were drooping. When they entered the mouth of the river Giles paused to point out the camp spot. It was across a small bay. Daniel noticed the waves beating against a small archipelago of rocks where gulls and small shore birds hopped about. Dark forest rimmed the bay except for one clearing beyond a small cliff. The boys headed their canoes across the bay toward the cliff and its open camp site. As soon as they had passed the mouth of the river the waves on the lake caught them and the canoes became harder to manage. Neil helped push the canoe across the bay. The boys barely noticed when the rain had stopped about half way across.

* ** *

Daniel sat looking out over the still waters of the bay. After the wind had blown the last of the overcast away it had died. It looked like the weather might have finally changed for the better. The stuff in his pack was dry, but Daniel decided to let things dry on his back for a while. Setting up the three tents had been easy. Daniel admired the ease with which Giles started their fire in the grate. They were all hungry for supper but Giles sent everyone but the supper crew out to gather fresh dead fall to replace the wood that had been left for their use. They had walked in pairs and because the camp site was well used they had to trek a fair distance before they found wood. Evan asked Daniel and the others why they were making so much noise as they moved through the brush. He had stopped swinging the branch he had found and reminded the inexperienced camper that they didn't want to trip over a bear by surprise. One of the boys had found a standing tree that had died in the shadows. He and his partner pushed it over and they carried it back to the camp. Daniel had taken a turn sawing logs from the tree and then sat down to wait for the supper crew to finish the steaks and potatoes. Fresh food and the perishables had to be eaten the first day. Daniel tried to tune out the camp noises so that he could catch a loon, or just the lapping of the waves against the shore. Across the water he could see other groups of canoes moving like beetles toward camps further up the lake. A few fishermen cast their lines below the cliff. They waved at Daniel as he watched. He wished he was older and could travel deeper into the park.

Mustafa was praying. Daniel admired the unselfconscious way he separated himself from the others. He had stepped away from the camp site and found a cliff edge to lay his sleeping bag. Daniel had been headed for the same spot when he saw Mustafa He hadn't wanted to interrupt him. When Mustafa was done he rolled the bag up and followed Daniel's example and watched the growing twilight gather over the lake. He noticed Daniel looking at him and waved him over in a casual manner.

"You wouldn't have bothered me; as long as you don't mind me bobbing around near you."

"No that's okay." Daniel knew Moslems at school. "How do you pray when we're on the river?" Mustafa smiled and admitted he cut a few corners. He'd mutter a prayer to himself. Sometimes it became a chant that followed the rhythm of his strokes. "My father is pretty easy going about it, but I know I'd disappoint him if I didn't make the effort." Mustafa seemed like a person who was comfortable with himself. Daniel admired that.

"Mom's not very big on religion." he wished he had something to match the bigger boy's commitment. Mustafa put a hand on his arm and pointed to a pair of birds out in the bay. They watched the birds in silence until the boys called them over for supper.

First night out and most of the boys were tired. By 10:30 people were drifting off to bed. Giles knew he should send the rest to the tents, but he sat listening to the final four spinning out the evening around the dying fire. He was craving a coffee but had been forced to settle for herbal tea. Giles was interested in the dynamic of his group. Nigel was engrossed with the fire and the other three seemed to be a problem waiting to happen. There was an under-current to the conversation. Neil was simply waiting for Evan to head back to the tent they shared with two of the others. Giles decided that Evan was keyed up about his first night out and he had taken a liking to Daniel who was the fourth boy at the fire. Giles decided Daniel was unaware of the competition he was winning for Evan's attention. Daniel was recycling jokes that were old when Giles was a camper.

"These two hunters were following a trail in the woods, they came across a prostitute sitting on a log. The hunters looked at each other and then one hunter asked the prostitute if she was game. She said sure honey. So they shot her." Evan and Nigel laughed softy.

Neil responded with a joke of his own. "Two hunters were walking in the woods. One of them stopped to take a piss. When he took his dong out a rattler bit him. His friend called 911 on his cell phone to find out what he should do. The hospital said his friend would die unless he immediately sucked the venom out of the wound. The hunter was in agony and asked what the hospital had said. His friend turned to him and replied; they say you are going to die." Everyone laughed at that joke. They talked together about the next leg of the trip and then Giles told them to cover the fire. Daniel slipped off into the trees for a minute.

Giles lay quietly in his bag until he was sure Daniel had got back. He and Mustafa had been the least concerned about sharing a tent with the eighteen-year-old counselor. Giles heard the boy slip in and zip the door closed. Daniel left his shoes at the door and stripped before getting into his bag. Soon his soft snores were mingled with Mustafa's

Dragonflies, Friday morning July 2nd

Daniel snapped awake. He was warm and secure in the bag. The air was crisp when he came up for air. He checked his tent mates. They were both asleep so he grabbed his pants and slipped out of the tent silently. Daniel tossed his pants near the fire and squatted to uncover the carefully banked coals. After he had built the fire up he walked gingerly down to the shore and dived into the lake. The water was cold and he had to keep moving before he got numb. He swam out a bit and started to tread water. Daniel was a strong swimmer and he tested his endurance while he took in the clear sky and early morning calm. He thought about trying out for the swim team at Riverview High. My balls must be turning blue, but this is the best, he thought to himself.

"You're one tough kid." Daniel rotated in the water to look back at Giles. "You'd better not swim by yourself from now on." Daniel watched Giles go back to the fire. He seemed to know how to lead the trip. Daniel decided that Giles was a chubby version of Mark. He wasn't self conscious about his weight like Nigel. Nigel kept himself covered most of the time. Daniel figured it was time to get out. He stopped pushing against the water and sank down into the intense cold. The silence closed around him and he felt the pressure build. The urge grew to grope his way back to the surface and before long he pulled himself back to the bright surface. "Now you had me worried there for a minute." He smiled at the eighteen-year old and swam easily to shore. He was shivering when he ran up to the fire.

Giles watched the boy drying himself off with his pants before pulling them on. He tried not to look at the trim fourteen-year-old until he had pulled his pants on. He had always envied the Daniel's of this world but was reconciled to his chubby fate. If there had been a prize for most economical camper then Daniel would probably win. He wasn't wearing underwear and the heavy knife dragging on his web belt was the only thing he seemed to carry. He had come out with only the new khaki pants he had been wearing when he came to camp the first day. He only seemed to have brought a couple of t-shirts. His pack was probably the lightest in the group. Giles told Daniel it was too early to start breakfast but they started some water for cocoa. Before long Mustafa came out of the tent to join them and while the water boiled the three decided to pack their tent. After securing his own baggage Giles lowered the food from the tree branch and organized breakfast while the boys finished the packing. The three sat together over the hot drinks and Mustafa made the eighteen-year-old give the two boys a brief profile of his life. They made him admit he had a girl friend and forced him to share a picture he carried in his pack. Daniel thought her another version of Claire. He lost points with them when they found out he was planning to be a teacher. The sounds of their conversation roused the others and soon the camp was full of chattering boys. Later, when the canoes had been packed, Giles supervised the clean-up. When they had stacked the last piece of firewood ready for the next group's arrival Giles placed a green fern stem in the center of the fire. It was time to head out.

* ** *

The second day was a shorter distance, but the party of canoes found it hard. It had started when their counselor miscalculated the wind. Other groups watched them leave the shelter of the shore unwilling to chance the lake. Half way across the broad lake the morning calm was replaced by a strong cross wind. Giles cursed as he watched the fourteen-year-olds strain their light muscles against the choppy waves. The boys in the front were getting wet from spin-drift. A few, braving the cool wind, had taken their shirts off and he could see the water glistening on their rippling shoulder muscles. It had been a relief to regain the shelter of the far shore line.

The second stretch took them into the reed-choked mouth of a river emptying slowly into the lake. They pushed their way against a steady current into a world of swamp and tangled logs. At times the river broadened into shallow reed lined lakes bordered by tangled trees lost in purple shadow. At other times it narrowed into braided channels where the banks and green grasses and auburn cattails seemed to close in about the canoes. The boys and their leader hauled their canoes up over an endless series of beaver dams. Most times this involved shifting the loads out of the canoes and piling them on the bracken and twisted branches of the dam while the boys hauled the canoe over the top and into the pool beyond. Everyone was wet to the knees and the smell of corruption hung over them all. Mosquitoes plagued them and the boys kept their arms covered. They were all perfumed with variations of repellent. As the morning wore on the boys lost their humor and only a core of boys kept the team moving. At one point Evan had fallen back into the muck and would have lost it if Daniel and Mustafa hadn't waded in after him to help him up and turn the curses on his lips into shared laughter.

Later in a school bathroom, when Daniel's sense-of-self energy was at its lowest ebb, he would recall the moment when the besieging mosquitoes had magically disappeared and he had felt surrounded by a flashing flight of dragonflies. He was duffing in the center of the canoe and had the time to watch the graceful insects darting around him as they cleared the air. Their shifting energy and colors exploded into his mind and he felt his spirit lift. They seemed to be little spirits telegraphing their good will and support to him. Throughout the rest of the weary journey through the bog he attended to their presence. They became his companions: his own air force defending the fleet. At the time he had wanted to share the experience with someone. He turned around, but realized he didn't have the words to explain it to the others. In high school English he would try to capture the moment:

Dragonflies

Dancing on shadow breezes around me,
Ranged against a tide of malevolent mosquitoes,
A busy flight of dragons captivates my eyes.
Glittering wings, effortlessly praising motion, dart
Over lush reeds, cattails, and the bottle-green river.
Near fourteen, I assume clarity and balance in this.
Friendship is not on their hungry minds, but I'll offer it.
Lying in the canoe that dreamy summer afternoon
I'll watch them feast elementals unaware of the youth,
Silently praising their incidental charity of spirit.

 

The poem had not brought him a particularly good mark.

Sitting by the river eating lunch Jeremy suddenly pointed out that Daniel had a dragonfly sitting on his shoulder. Daniel became still and turned his head slowly to catch a glimpse of the insect. Jeremy walked over softly and eased the dragonfly onto his finger and brought it around to show Daniel. They examined the quiet insect closely. Jeremy remarked, "My grandmother would say that Dragonfly medicine is of the dreamtime. Things aren't real, we make them up." Daniel didn't follow this.

Giles had been watching the boys and tried to explain. The boys turned to look at him when he spoke up, "The world is full of natural spirits Daniel. Some religions believe the world is not real; we are just living in an illusion; what we think we see." It was a teachable moment and he searched for an example. "Evan fell in the lake and got covered in slime" Some of the boys laughed at that. "He might have been upset, but instead he laughed it off."

"You mean it's all in your attitude?" Daniel asked.

"Okay maybe that was not the right example; when you change your attitude about something you feel differently about it, like seeing the humor in falling in the river instead of being upset. But that's not really what I mean. When you see through the illusion what you see is actually different. The world changes around you. You are creating it all Daniel, your life and the world around you, by what you believe to be true. It is a powerful idea. When you accept that things are not the way they seem, that you are not even who you think you are, then the world around you will change." Giles figured he had lost the boys so he let it drop. Daniel and Jeremy turned their attention back to the insect still patiently sitting on Jeremy's finger. Daniel tried to get it to move to his finger and after a careful moment it did resettle there.

"It's cool" he commented to Jeremy. Jeremy studied it some more.

"Maybe dragonfly is walking beside you" He spoke of it as if it was a person. "Grandma said you should listen to your totem." This was pretty deep for Daniel. He had just been appreciating the little animal, not listening to it.

He shook his finger a little and as it flew away he said "bye little dragonfly, hope you catch some lunch."

Teamwork, Friday afternoon

The current began to get stronger as they headed further upstream and the land beyond the banks started to dry up. Daniel found himself back with Neil and Darcy. It was a bit of a trial for him because the two kept carping at each other. The river also became so shallow that for long stretches it was simpler to get out and walk the canoe. The bottom was clean so the boys paused to wash as much of the muck off their clothes as they could. Daniel stripped for a minute to scrub his pants out in the water and squeeze the mud out of his socks. He wished he could dry his boots out, but he didn't want to risk a cut on his foot. The blue green pines were closing in on the river when Giles finally directed the five canoes over to the bank. They had reached the portage.

The trail was well marked and well traveled. The smaller boys were assigned the job of carrying the baggage over the portage and the four biggest boys were assigned the canoes. Giles carried one by himself and the others were carried by pairs. The portage would require two trips. Daniel thought he could handle a canoe, but he was assigned to the packs. He took the biggest load he could find and set off without comment.

The boys moved at their own paces and the campers were soon strung out over the three kilometer portage. It was a steady uphill climb that stressed the calf muscles and left the boy's shirts soaked in sweat. Ball caps became stained and the salty rivulets wandered down their faces. The load was a strain on his back and he kept trying to shift it higher onto his shoulders. Daniel thought if he did this regularly he would build up some muscle. He tried to keep his breath regular as he stumbled up a rocky path. The climb was worth it because the view along the ridge prompted him to make a short stop. He leaned against a tree and looked out over the forest. He drank a little from his water bottle and watched Garth and Mustafa tramp by heads buried under the canoe. He followed them along the ridge and down back into the forest. The geography was rockier on this side of the ridge, but they were now moving down hill. The grade was steep and worked new muscles in his legs but it didn't seem long before they reached the other end of the portage. Daniel dumped his load and looked around for a minute at their next camp site before turning back to the trail. They talked together on the way back stepping aside when they encountered someone coming down the path.

Other parties were a brief opportunity to share experiences and scout out information about bear sightings. Now that they knew the trail it didn't seem so far. A couple of times they passed people resting on the side of the trail. Daniel had more opportunity to look at the forest floor covered by moss-draped trunks melting back into the ferns. Shafts of light lent intimations of a cathedral to Daniel's imagination. Twenty paces off of the path and the bright plastic trail markers signaling civilization would be hidden from view. Daniel thought briefly of the wilder trips the older boys got to take. The more dangerous rivers and the greater challenges; they were as far removed from this trip as his first trip across the lake at age nine. He'd be carrying a canoe by then.

Daniel became aware of a group of older men traveling the trail in the opposite direction. Two of them followed Daniel on the way back for his second load. Daniel was used to the different groups on the busy trail and ignored their presence until he stopped for a drink of water before he climbed back up to the ridge. He was sitting on a rock looking up the trail as it mounted the rocks to the cliff beyond. "It's one hell of a hike isn't it?" The one who spoke was light and wiry. He had a pointed goatee that emphasized his narrow face. It came to Daniel that the man looked rather like Simon Marks. The other man was heavier set. From the look of their faces both looked like they had been out for a while. Daniel nodded in order to be polite. "So you with that crew back at the river?" Daniel nodded again and splashed some water onto his face before covering the bottle. He used his t-shirt to wipe off his face and caught a glimpse of the heavy set man's eyes on his exposed stomach. When the man unconsciously licked his upper lip Daniel realized he was not comfortable with the two men. Daniel let the half empty bottle drop on its strap and pushed off the rock.

"Guess I better get a move on." He started up the trail and the two men fell in behind him. Daniel had never thought about old men perving him. These two were really old, like forty maybe. As he scrambled up the incline he was conscious that he was not wearing underwear and that the heavy knife pulled at the waistband of his khaki pants. He paused by the side of the trail and dropped to one knee. Instead of passing him as he fumbled with a shoe lace the men paused again beside him. The heavy set man seemed tongue-tied but the thin one tried start up a conversation. The man wiped his face with his own t-shirt exposing an expanse of pelt. One hand rested below his sternum as he gazed off into the forest and commented on its beauty. He held the pose until Daniel felt compelled into responding. "Yes" There was not much else to do with the shoe lace so Daniel decided he must need to take a stone out of his boot. He sat and slowly worked the laces loose hoping the men would move on. He had an odd feeling he had never experienced before. He wanted to get away from them.

"Say are you okay? Do you need some help?" Daniel looked at the man who had spoken.

"No he's fine. Aren't you?" The other broke in quickly. Daniel nodded slowly and glance up and down the trail hoping some of the other campers would come along. At that point he would have settled for a bear. Daniel probed the boot thoughtfully trying to discourage the men with his silence. His small drama was winding down when the thin man nudged the heavy-set one to get his attention and they began moving up the trail. Daniel took his time with the boot and then set off after them. Daniel was used to strangers talking with him. He must have had a friendly face or something; but since school had let out Daniel had become more self conscious about it.

"Daniel, wait up." Evan jogged up the slope and joined Daniel. Evan was sweating in the heat of the day and had taken his shirt off. "Man I hope this is the last trip. I need a swim."

"You're going to get eaten alive Evan." Daniel's shirt was plastered to his back but he preferred its protection. Evan was in a talkative mood so the two boys chatted as they hiked back to the ridge. The two men were on the ridge taking a rest. Daniel was starting past them when Evan stopped to look at the view.

"Quite a view isn't it son?"

"It sure is. Isn't this fantastic Daniel?" Evan smiled at Daniel and he agreed it was a good view. He wanted to keep moving.

"Sure, we were just discussing the right angle for our picture." The heavy set one revealed a small digital camera with an expensive zoom lenses. "Nate and I are professional photographers. We are doing a piece on the park. You know pictures of the scenery and animals. Yeh, it's going to be in National Geographic."

"Really?" Evan seemed impressed.

"Yes. Say Nate, don't you think if we had these young fellows in the picture it would be great?" The heavy set man smiled. "What do you say boys?"

"Sure" Evan shrugged. Daniel sighed impatiently. He did not want anything to do with the men. "Come on Daniel it will only take a minute."

"We have to keep moving Evan. It's getting late." The thin man, Nate, stared at Daniel.

"Shep is right. I think it would make a great picture for the cover. I can see it, the forest and sky and you boys looking out at it." Nate ignored Evan and studied Daniel as he stood uncertainly on the trail. "Shep and I also work for a fashion magazine. Have you ever thought of modeling Dan?" Daniel disliked hearing the man use his name. "You have just the look we are searching for. You and your friend, what's your name son?" He turned back to Evan.

"I'm Evan." Shep was very enthusiastic and enticed Evan out toward the edge of the cliff. Daniel reluctantly followed him.

"You know what would be great? Danny, do you mind if I call you Danny?" Shep did not wait for a reply, "It would really help the shot if you would take your shirt off too, Danny."

"I don't think so." Daniel did not like the way the man had looked at him earlier.

"Come on Daniel, its for the cover of National Geographic." Daniel shook his head and decided he would just leave and let Evan catch up when he had had his picture taken.

"Oh that's okay Shep, he can keep it on." Shep looked a little disappointed. Daniel reluctantly joined Evan by the cliff. "Oh that's going to be a great shot. Now turn a little toward each other. Yes, that's it. Now Dan you put your hand just above Evan's heart, right below the collar bone.. Now look at Evan's face..."

"I thought we were looking at the scenery." Daniel stepped away from Evan.

"You know, if you would just take your shirt off it would be great."

"Never mind that Shep" Nate stepped forward "We can do it this way" he started to put an arm over Daniel's shoulder but he shifted away from him so he ended up demonstrating with Evan. Evan beamed at him. "See? Just do that." When the man stepped back Daniel returned to Evan's side and draped his arm over Evan's shoulder. "Great, okay Shep." Daniel endured a series of pictures, some of which seemed to be aimed at odd angles. When they were done Daniel almost pushed Evan back to the trail."

"Say boys, how about giving us your email addresses." Shep dug into his bag and pulled out a pencil and paper. "We can send you the pictures. You would like to have them wouldn't you? We could talk about some modeling too." Daniel elbowed Evan before he could speak.

"I don't think so. Thanks anyway's." He tugged at Evan to get him going again.

"But I want to see the pictures."

"You can see them in National Geographic then." Evan reluctantly followed Daniel off down the trail. Daniel was glad to put some distance between them and the two men on the ridge. Evan was impressed.

"Wow Daniel, it would be awesome being in a magazine. He said we could be models."

"I don't think they are photographers Evan."

"What do you mean?"

"Look" Daniel detoured around a log and glanced up the path they had just followed "They were just a couple of guys trying to get our pictures. They gave me the creeps so just keep walking." Evan mulled over this in silence for a while. Daniel tried to shake off the moment by enjoying the forest and Evan's company.

"Why would they want to do that?"

"I don't know." But Daniel did. Evan seemed naive. Daniel did not want tell Evan about the web sites he had visited; the ones with pictures of boys together. It was probably just like back on the ridge. Daniel could imagine it now, first they ask you to take your shirt off and the next thing you know your standing in your gotch.

They picked up their second loads quickly and headed back down the trail again. When Daniel arrived with his second load he was glad to drop it. Giles had started a fire in the grate so that dinner would be ready when the last camper arrived at the end of the portage and the camp had been set up. He asked if someone could head back and see if the others needed help. Daniel and Mustafa looked at each other and silently headed back up the trail. They had arrived back on the ridge when they encountered the last load. It was Jeremy struggling under a pack and some miscellaneous articles that had been left behind. The three boys split the load and started back down the ridge without much comment. Daniel's feet were sore from the kilometers he had walked in the last few hours. He was glad he had not encountered the men along the way.

When the boys finally arrived back at the camp they found most of the boys cleaning the sweat off in the river. The three boys quickly stripped and headed in to join them. Daniel noticed Nigel sitting on the bank watching the others so he called to Mustafa and pointed at the shy boy. Mustafa got the hint and Giles grinned as he saw the two naked boys converge on Nigel and jump him from behind. They stripped the protesting Nigel and to the cheers of the other boys pushed him into the river. He came up smiling and joined into the fun. Mustafa noticed Giles by the fire and he and Daniel began to move on him. He was not up to a wrestling match with them so he pulled off his shoes and shirt and jumped into the water.

The boys forgot themselves in the water and fell into a panic when five canoes swung around the bend and the chatter of girls signaled the arrival of another group at the portage. "Incoming boys!" a girl shouted and the boys started yelling their panic and scrambled for the shore. Daniel and Mustafa watched from the water as the other boys pranced to their shorts trying to cover their naked bodies. He studied the girl's progress and decided he should get out of the water too. He would be too cold before they had beached and organized their portage.

"Let's get out" he suggested to Mustafa and the pair swam back to the shore. Daniel walked slowly to his pants and casually slid them on intensely conscious of the girls closing in on the landing. When he had pulled them over his crotch he turned to buckle the heavy web and zip up his fly. The first canoe was close so he walked back to the water and helped the girls to run it up onto the gravel. It earned him a smile from the girl in the bow.

"Nice butt" her partner added as they started pulling their loads out. "Did you guys make the portage?" Daniel smiled and nodded. He let the girls do their own work convinced he wouldn't be appreciated for stepping in. "How's the trail?"

"It's a bit of a climb but the view at the top is sweet. Are you heading down river right away?" He stepped out of the girl's path as they pulled the canoe out of the water.

"We'll camp on the other side."

"How was the river upstream?"

A girl from another canoe replied, "Awesome; really fast and lots of white water... not really hard though." Daniel was sorry he missed it.

"Well the next leg is rank; at least you get to go down stream." He watched the girls begin up the trail and wished once again that they canoed coed.

Reminders, Friday night

That evening Giles stretched out early to give the boys some space to talk among themselves. He used the time to write in his journal. It was mostly for himself, but he drew on it from time to time when he wrote to his girlfriend. The boys were an endless source of inspiration for his writing. He reflected on the way the hard day had discouraged them and he tried to understand where boys like Mustafa and Daniel found the reserves to stay up-beat and civil. He was tired of dealing with the boys, so he lay back on his bag and listened to their conversation for a while from the privacy of the tent.

"So these two hunters were out in the woods and they split up when they saw some rustling in the brush. They worked around from different directions. When one of the hunters saw some movement he snapped of a quick shot. When he got up to the kill he was shocked to find he had shot his friend. He carried his friend back to the truck and drove like hell to the nearest hospital. When the doctor came out of the emergency room he asked how his friend was. The doctor wiped his forehead and said well he wasn't shot very bad and he might have made it if you hadn't gutted him first." The boys groaned.

"So there was this hunter following some tracks..."

"Yeh he got run over by a train. Enough with the hunter jokes you guys they're getting lame." The boys were quiet for a moment while someone thought of a new subject. Darcy asked "Mustafa said you're going into grade nine next year." Except for Sweet William and Frank the rest of the boys were going into grade eight.

"Yeh"

"Your school has freshies?"

"Yeh" Daniel's voice sounded guarded to Giles.

"So that means you have some senior bossing you around?" It was Neil's voice this time.

"Yeh, he's cool though so we just hang out a bit. Are you going to a school where they have Freshies?"

"Yeh I will." Neil replied. A couple of the boys offered that they were too.

"Have a good time." Giles had a few buddies who had gone to schools that were big into Freshie Days. When they were drunk they let things slip out, so he wasn't all that surprised to catch a whisper of sarcasm in the young boy's voice.

"There should be girls at this camp." There was universal agreement that that would be an improvement. They all had been thinking about the girls at the other end of the portage. They were at least a year older than them but more than one of them had thought about grabbing a flashlight and going over for a visit.

"Man I wish I could see my girlfriend. I'm getting backed up if you know what I mean." Darcy's voice leered at his friends. "Your sister's hot Mustafa, does she have a boyfriend?"

"Talk about my sister and I take your balls off." That actually sounded serious to Giles and he thought he should go out and join the boys.

"Back off dude, I didn't mean anything by it." The boys were quiet for a minute. "You got a girl friend high school boy?"

"Nope" apparently this had been directed to Daniel.

"You got a boy friend?"

"Sorry, I'm not available Darcy. Go talk to your hand." The boy's laughed at the burn. Things settled down and Giles relaxed again. Mustafa and Daniel sat late by the dying fire and they talked so quietly that Giles worried they might have left the camp. He trusted them to take care of the fire.

Still water, Saturday July 3rd

The next day was an exhilarating run down a fast flowing river. The boys worked their way through a long series of short rapids and shoots that made the long second day seem worth while. They spent the last night at a camp site overlooking the lake that would take them back to their camp. They had gotten in early enough for the boys to swim and explore the woods behind their camp site. They had one last campfire and shared stories from the trip. They were all feeling grubby and they were feeling like veteran explorers. It was a short day back to the camp so Giles let the boys sleep in a bit later. Daniel got up early, as usual, and when Giles stepped out of the tent he saw the boy lazily paddling a canoe around the still waters of the lake. Giles sat and watched him for a while. He was dressed as he had seen him the first morning, shirtless and shoeless. He wasn't wearing the life preserver. He would pause in his strokes and sit looking out at the lake. His mirror image was reflected in the still water of the lake. Giles dug his camera out and took the first of two pictures he would later send the boy. He had zoomed in to catch his head turned away from the camera. The far shore was unfocused. The boy would dip his paddle into the water and try to execute intricate curves. He would repeat it until he could paddle figure eights and do a dance in the still waters. Mustafa came up beside Giles as he watched Daniel. Daniel finished his last turn and stretched back in his seat looking up into the sky. The bow lifted out of the water a bit as Daniel reached into his pants and scratched his groin. "I think he needs a shower" commented Mustafa with a laugh.

"I think we all do" replied the counselor. Moments later, Daniel saw them and waved his paddle. The pair on the bank waved back.

Daniel was happy to find two letters and a post card on his bed when he got back from the showers. He sat on his bunk and read the post card. It was just a short note from Mandy saying she hoped he was having a good time. She had signed it with a little heart next to her name. It was nice to know she was thinking about him. The letters were from his mom and Denver . His mom was predictable, but he appreciated hearing from her. She was looking forward to his return and their trip to the mountains. She still hadn't been convinced of his plan that they both go river rafting. He'd work on her in his next letter. He opened Denver 's letter and a couple of pictures fell out. He recognized Mark with Denver in one and the other was a picture of Mandy pool side in a one piece bathing suit. She was hugging her knees while she looked into the camera. He could see the swell of her breast just below her arm. He dropped the picture and read through the letter. "Dudes; Daniel's been holding out on us." Darcy grabbed Mandy's picture and shared it with the other guys.

"You lie like a rug Daniel; you do too have a girl friend. What's her name?" Cody added. Darcy handed the picture to Neil who was sitting next to Evan on his bunk. Daniel discarded the impulse to explain his relationship "we're just friends..." and simply gave them her name. Neil looked at the picture with interest and passed it to Evan. Evan jumped off the bed and gave Daniel his picture back.

"She's beautiful" he smiled at Daniel and went back to his bunk. Daniel slipped both pictures into his leather kit. Denver had invited them both over the day Daniel had left for camp. He'd found out that Daniel had never so much as asked for a school picture of her.

Urges, Thursday July 8th

Giles caught his second picture of Daniel sitting against a tree contemplating Reed River Falls. He is wearing a black tee-shirt with a Black hawk Helicopter on the front, a pair of baggy khaki pants and what was once a new pair of hiking boots. You can't see the front of the t-shirt because the picture captures Daniel's profile as he is looking down into the rushing water. The only real evidence of the falls in the picture is the fine mist rising from between the narrow channel cut into the rocks. The noise from the falls is awesome and humbling. It calls forth the spiritual in everyone and Daniel seems lost in meditation to the viewer.

Daniel had been meditating on how difficult it would be to run a canoe through the rapids. Giles had emphatically rejected the proposal when Daniel and Evan had presented it to him. Even Mustafa had failed to support him. Daniel was sure there was a safe path through the roiling waters below and he had been mapping out the turns in his mind. They had taken out smaller canoes this time and he was sure he could swing them around quickly like a kayak. Well Giles was simply not going to let him do it so he might as well move on. He surveyed the curved path of the falls and rapids. The carpet of needles was wet. The pines and ferns were lush along the rocky cliff. The air was heavy with the mist. The churning water seemed chaotic as it bounced from rock to rock. Evan approached him and sat close so that he could be heard above the steady roar. "Are you going to say anything?"

"What? No." Daniel shook his head and looked at Evan. Evan shifted uncomfortably.

"I've never done that before." He was clearly upset. Daniel was not sure if it was because he had been caught at it or because he had not liked it. Half the cabin had opted out of the second canoe trip. The camp's other opportunities had lured them away. Giles had scratched together five interested boys and planned another four day trip. This time they had been driven up river and dropped off for a trip through an island chain, a short portage and a challenging run back to the camp. They had taken three short canoes.

On the second night out Daniel was sharing the tent with Neil and Evan. He had been roused in the early morning by whispers and movement from one of his companions. Two weeks without dealing with their urges was a bit too much to expect and the boys studiously ignored late night stirrings in the cabin or tent. Daniel's strategy had been to jack off quickly when he said he was going for a crap. He figured it was at least private. He had opened his eyes a little and realized that Neil and Evan had unzipped their bags and were playing with each other. He had been woken by Neil's quiet encouragements to Evan to jack him off. It was close in the small tent. Neil had his back to Daniel and neither boy was paying him any attention. Neil's hips shifted a little in response to the movement of Evan's hand. Neil whispered "suck it" and Evan shook his head a little. Daniel was getting a aroused watching them fondle each other. He kept perfectly still but he wished he could touch his erection. After a long drawn out session Neil shivered and jerked his load onto the fabric of the bag. Evan withdrew his hand and lay back on his bag. As the early morning light filtered through the tent walls Daniel watched Neil rest his head on Evan's stomach and began to suck his cock. Evan had stayed perfectly still with his eyes held tightly shut but Daniel could see he was responding to the sensation on his cock. Evan's chest was heaving a little and his diaphragm was contracting. Neil's head bobbed and turned as he played with the other boy's cock. Daniel looked at the curve of Neil's back as he bent over the other boy. When Evan came, Daniel looked back at his face and found the boy looking at him. Their eyes locked for a moment and then Daniel flicked his eyes at Neil and back before closing his eyes. The other boys settled down and after a while Daniel heard them fall into sleep.

"I don't want you to think I'm a fag." Evan needed some reassurance. Daniel had been having a great time clearing his mind of all this and he didn't want to get dragged back down. He tried to pull some sort of an answer together for Evan.

"You are a good partner in a canoe. You don't complain about work and you didn't burn my eggs at breakfast." Evan chuckled a little. "You didn't come to camp with dorky things and you never put people down. You're still cool with me." He pushed Evan a little to let him know they were still cool.

"Sure?"

"Sure."

"Thanks I needed to know that." Evan seemed reassured. They sat together by the falls lost in their own thoughts. Inevitably Daniel's thoughts drifted to Evan and what he had seen that morning. Evan's dark hair had fallen over his eyes as he sat looking into the rapids below. When Evan brushed the long strands back Daniel felt puzzled by attraction he felt. He was tempted to kiss Evan. He wondered what it would have been like if he had been in Neil's place that morning.

Staying afloat, Friday July 9th

Daniel was behind Evan and Neil when their canoe tipped over in the rapids. He was startled when it happened because years of experience had taught him this was not easy to do. The boy's had gone into a deep trough and when they came back up the bow of their canoe had ridden up the side of a smooth rock and flipped them over.

"Jesus Will they went over!"

"Stay with the canoe!"

Evan saw his pack floating away and tried to launch himself into the froth to recover it. He bobbed away buoyed up by his jacket. "Fuck, there he goes". Neil clutched the thwart as the canoe rolled around and let it carry him down the river. "Hold on to the paddles" Daniel shouted as they swept past Neil. Daniel kept an eye on Evan as he was spun up and down the troughs and around hidden rocks.

He pulled the bow of the canoe around and the two boy's paddles bit deep into the broiling water as they tried to follow the bobbing Evan. "Harder, harder, harder" William screamed as their canoe fought against the impossible pull of the river. Daniel and William watched as Evan clutched at a tortured branch caught among the rocks and it seemed to swing him around before he finally locked an arm around it. He had drifted far down the river on the angry current and the straining boys were able to fight their craft over where it crashed against the heavy branch. The impact almost dislodged the white faced Evan but while Daniel clutched at the branch to hold their boat steady William grabbed at Evan and hauled him up and onto their load. The two boys pushed their canoe around the obstruction as Evan lay panting between them, his pack still clutched tightly in one arm. Down the river Neil sat in the sunken canoe watching while they negotiated the last of the rapid. Daniel felt his heart pound as the adrenaline charged his muscles. Evan probably would have washed down the river to safety, but he was glad they had stopped for him. They drifted toward the other canoes as the four boys tried to empty the water out of the swamped canoe. "You forgot to lash your stuff down." William commented.

"Well I didn't think Evan was going to tip us did I?" Neil retorted defensively. Evan was silent as he helped Daniel pull the bow up over their over burdened canoe and awkwardly roll it clean. They were short paddles so Daniel climbed into the empty canoe and took the stern while Evan threw his pack into the bottom and flopped into the front seat. William and Daniel steered the two canoes down to where Giles was fishing equipment out of the water.

The party took a break on a sand bar while Giles assessed the damage and they looked through the soggy load. Giles did not let them sit too long. The party got back into canoes and continued down the river. Neil and Evan looked shaken so Giles shifted Neil into his canoe and decided Evan could go with Daniel. Daniel understood Neil's fit when the decision was announced even if Giles and the others didn't. "Don't be mad at Neil, he didn't really want to come this time. He came along because I wanted to go." Great, Daniel thought, now I'm caught in the middle of their romance. "I'm sorry he doesn't like you."

"Don't worry; I care less if he likes me." Daniel didn't want to get Evan mad at him too. "He's okay Evan; I just have bigger problems to deal with." He wanted to tell the guy that if Neil kept having hissy-fits like he was Evan's girl friend they would all want to sink into the ground and disappear.

Evan glanced back at Daniel. He was sprawled with his feet up on the thwart paddle tucked into his arm pit like a rudder. "You know what he was telling me when he hit the rock?" Daniel glanced over to the other canoe where Neil was trying to paddle while looking back at Evan. Daniel knew he didn't want to hear this. "He was telling me he wanted to corn hole me tonight" Way too much information. "I turned around and I missed the rock. I don't want to be his bum-buddy Daniel." Neil's spider sense must be telling him they were talking about him because he frowned at Daniel.

"Then don't" Daniel replied shortly. He could hear the growing roar of the next rapid and became more attentive to the canoe. "Stop worrying about it." The next rapids approached and there was no time for talk. It was easy for Daniel to tell Evan not to worry. It was harder to stop worrying about it himself. Neil had been right at least about one thing: it would have been better if there had been girls at the camp. Daniel missed Mandy.

This was his last canoe trip for the year. Another couple of days he would be packed and back on his way home. Daniel felt the blade tear at the water as they shot through the rapids. He felt the strain in his shoulder muscles as he followed Evan's lead. Evan swung around when the rapids were passed and flashed Daniel a grin. Evan's long dark hair was wild and small water droplets glistened in the sunshine; almost right, Daniel thought to himself. It had been a good season and he had made new friends. "Let's take the lead" Evan called out to him and Daniel agreed. He felt the pull of home now. Back to being the butt of the older boy's hazing, but back to Denver and The Brass Lantern, his mom, and of course Mandy. Those three at least would be interested in his camp stories. Daniel and Evan fell into a rhythm and the canoe cut through the clean water in short thrusts. Daniel was back into his dream world, back into the wilds exploring new territory. He did not know the language but he could get by with signs. Warriors would grip his arms in friendship. He imagined Evan was a dark young warrior helping him elude huge enemies in the other two canoes. Working as a team they could stay ahead. Evan paused his stroke and whooped for joy. He turned back to Daniel and flashed him another broad smile. Almost right, Daniel grinned back before letting his broad blade dip back into the water.