I had never been so cold in my damn life, and Rod wouldn’t let me get any closer to the fire. The chocolate bar had definitely helped and I was starting to feel a little better now that the shivering had subsided a little bit, but I still felt like my body was going to seize up with ice. The cold was deep inside me, like it had snuck beneath my skin and muscles turning my bones to icicles.
Once I got my camera going though and started recounting my night beneath the rock and introducing them to Rod I started to forget about the cold.
“So Rod, what are you doing out here?” I asked him. I aimed the camera at him, but he didn’t speak. From the look on his face I could tell that he wasn’t particularly fond of the idea. Oh well, he was a co-star now whether he liked the idea or not. I didn’t like him touching my stuff, but I really didn’t have much choice in the matter.
“Skylar, put the camera down,” he said.
“Come on ma-man,” I said, unable to control the small bit of shivering still rattling my chest. “How did you find me? How did you know I was out here? Are you looking for The Stash too? Come on, tell everyone.”
“I’ll tell you, but I’m not speaking to that camera,” he said. “This is ridiculous.”
I watched him close his eyes and take a deep breath as if he were trying to seriously control himself. The guy did just save my life so I decided I at least owed him enough to listen. I put the camera down on the log beside me.
“You think I’m stupid?” he asked me.
“Wh-what are you ta-ta-talking about?” I said, trying to feign ignorance.
“I can still see that red light glowing on the front, and don’t tell me it’s the Off light or I’ll smack ya,” he said.
“Okay, okay, okay,” I said, turning the camera around and pretending to switch it off. Instead of pressing the power button on the top, I simply pressed the Menu button. While doing nothing to affect the power, it only meant a small menu had appeared on the screen. I didn’t mind, I wasn’t trying to record, I just wanted the audio to pick up whatever it was the guy said. “So, what’s the story?”
Rod looked down at the camera, now turned around to face me, then back up at me.
“I know your grandfather,” he said. A weight dropped into my stomach.
“What? No way.”
Rod went on to explain that he’d been living in a rehab center in downtown Kitchener when he met gramps. Gramps was an addict so I had never really spent much time with the old guy, but I learned enough about him from Grandma. Rod said my grandfather, knowing Rod was heading to Algonquin Park told him about the 29th kilometer marker and about me.
“I thought Arthur was crazy,” he said. “but when I drove by in my van and saw you standing in that field with that refrigerator strapped to your back,” he pointed to my pack which was leaning against a tree behind him. “I knew you meant business. So, the next morning I made the decision to come out and try and find you. When I saw your pack leaning against that tree by the clearing, I knew you would be in serious trouble. That cold last night was wicked.” I nodded, staring at my hands.
“You okay kid?” he asked. I nodded again. A heavy feeling had sunk into my stomach. I didn’t know if it was from Rod saying grandpa’s name, which I didn’t know up until this point, or the fact that I had to steal the map from their basement, while grandpa just merely told this guy where to go. How many others had he told?
“So why did he want you to follow me?” I asked. Rod took a drink of water from a bottle he produced from his bag, along with a fat apple.
“He didn’t want me to just follow you,” he said. “He wanted me to stop you.”
“He what?” I asked. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as the anger rushed down from my brain.
“Your grandfather believed the legend, that the money is still up there, and he didn’t want you to get it.”
“Of course he didn’t” I said, “probably wanted it all for himself the greedy bastard.”
“Hey, that’s your grandfather,” Rod said. “Show some respect.”
“Fuck that,” I said. “The guy’s an old druggy.”
“So what!” I spat, “the guy is useless, never took care of my grandma, or my mom, just spent all his pay cheques on drugs.”
“And what do you plan to do with the money when you get it?” he asked.
“Not waste it, that’s for sure,” I said. An uneasy feeling stirred inside me as I thought back on all those times laying in bed, thinking about what I could do with all that money. Not only could I make a movie, but the fame, the cars, the women…the drugs.
“Maybe not, but I don’t think you’re the type that’s going to donate it to the Red Cross.”
“How do you know?” I asked. His judgment was scraping at my insides releasing all the pent up anger that had built up there. My brain kept trying to poke in and tell me it was because he was right, but I ignored it.
“Just a feeling,” he said. A small smirk was curving the sides of his mouth.
“So what, I’m still going to get it, whether you like it or not.”
“Quite the mouth on you, eh?” he said. I could tell he was starting to get frustrated with me and I liked it.
“You haven’t heard anything yet,” I said. Rod was silent for a moment as he looked down at the leaves he’d been piling together with his feet. A wave of pride swept through me as I thought I’d won the argument.
“I used to know many kids like you Skylar,” he said. “Born in the city, have everything they want handed to them on a silver platter. Parents with too much money they don’t know what to do with it, and they create kids with a bullshit sense of entitlement. They walk around feeling like the world owes them something.” I didn’t have anything to say. The lines around Rod’s eyes were crunched together as he leered over me at. The look made me uneasy and I turned my eyes to the ground.
“You think just because you’ve learned about this money, and have this old map that the money should be yours. You haven’t even considered if the money is even real!”
“It’s real,” I mumbled.
“You see, this is what I’m talking about, no questioning, just bullheaded belief. You think ‘oh, of course the money is there, of course it’s real, I need to make my silly movie so of course the money will be there for me.’” His voice had gained a high-pitched quality as he mocked me and I was starting to get angry. No, furious. My legs were still stuck rigid out in front of me and I was afraid to move them because of what Rod told me. It was probably a good thing though because I think I may have tried to knock a few of his teeth out if I was able to move.
“You don’t know me,” I said. The words sounded ridiculous coming out of my mouth, not only because I sounded like a whiny toddler, but because they seemed wrong. By the way he was talking it seemed like he did know me, that’s probably why I was getting so mad.
“I do though Skylar, I do, and I know that this money would do you no good.”
“You don’t know that,” I said. “I just want to make a movie.”
“If that were true, I would be more than happy to help you get that money. I didn’t really have any other important plans this weekend anyways, nothing too life threatening,” he chuckled at this, but I couldn’t see what was funny. “However, I think that’s bullshit, if you can sit there and tell me that you’ve never once thought about the fame, the fortune and all that it brings in connection with that money then I will gladly help you get there, but I don’t think you can. Am I right?”
“Fuck off,” I said, staring at my hands, which had started to regain their normal colour.
“Sure,” Rod said, “I’d be glad to, but for now I can’t leave you while you’re still mildly hypothermic.” Guilt was trying to crush in on me from every side. This guy had just saved my life and I was treating him this way? I pushed the thought away, he was just another doubter, like all the others. I was going to prove him wrong.
“I’m fine,” I said, “now leave me alone.”
“Sorry kid, no can do,” he took a bite out of the apple he’d been rolling back and forth in his hands. “You may be an ungrateful little shit, but I can’t in my right mind leave you out here to die, which is exactly what you would have done if I hadn’t come along.”
“I’m fine now,” I said, my voice starting to echo off the trees around us, “LEAVE ME ALONE!” He didn’t move though, only sat there eating his apple and staring off into the trees. “I don’t need your help, yeah thanks for saving me last night, but I’ll be fine from now on. I have everything I need.”
“Except common sense,” he said. I immediately pulled back to unleash a barrage of fucks and yous, but he cut me off. “You almost died doing a hike that should have taken you no longer thaaan,” he arched an eyebrow as he thought, “maybe eight hours. At maximum. So now, you’re a danger to yourself, and because of that, you’ve got yourself an escort.”
“I don’t need any fucking escort,” I spat.
“You do, and now you’ve got one.” Then I unleashed on him. Yelling at the top of my lungs that I didn’t need him or anybody else, I could find the money on my own and that he wasn’t going to stop me. There were also quite a few fucks thrown in there and a few other words I can’t quite remember. When I was finished, Rod wasn’t looking at me, but staring up over my shoulder. A voice spoke up from behind me.
“Is there a problem here gentleman?” I slowly turned around, already knowing what I was going to see. Earlier I had mistaken Rod for a park ranger, well, here was one, in the flesh. My mind immediately flashed to the tin of joints sitting in the front pocket of my backpack.
“Um, no sir,” I said. My face was burning and I turned back to study my hands. He was a tall, skinny guy with those pants that could zip off at the knee and turn into shorts. He wasn’t wearing a Tilley hat like Rod had said before, but he was wearing a baseball cap with the Ontario Parks emblem on the front and the front breast pocket of his shirt bore the same crest.
“Quite a bit of yelling going on here,” he said.
“Sorry,” I said, mumbling into my chest. I was afraid to even look anywhere but my hands. I was too scared of what he would suspect if he saw my beat red face, and I was afraid to make eye contact with Rod because of what he might possibly say.
“You two are well off the beaten trail here,” he said, moving over and standing between the two of us where we sat on our respective logs. My feet were still stuck out in front of me, my sock feet resting on a small rock in front of me.
“Just thought we would do a little exploring,” Rod said, taking another bite of his apple. “Not against the law is it?”
“It’s definitely discouraged in these areas,” he said. “These are very sensitive areas of the park and we can’t have everyone tramping through here when they feel like exploring.” He glanced at Rod, then back to me. I immediately turned my eyes down again. “I sound a little harsh, I’m sorry guys.” He pulled a water bottle from a place on his belt and squirted some into his mouth. “I was walking the trail a kilometer or two back and heard the commotion here, I half-expected to come out here to a group of drunk teenagers.” Rod laughed.
“No drinking going on here,” he said. “Just enjoying the park.” The ranger nodded.
“Well, judging by the pack you’ve got there I’d gather you were attempting the Highland trail, how was your first night out?” I barely heard a word of what he said, and had no idea what the Highland trail was. It was Rod, once again, that saved the day.
“It was a cold one,” he said. I could feel his eyes burning into the top of my head.
“I bet, however it looks as if you’ve faired pretty well, the trail is a great one and you’ve got some magnificent views ahead of you. Next time, just try and stay a little closer to the trail when you set up camp. As I said, these areas are quite sensitive and even the smallest of disruptions can cause major setbacks.”
“Well, we wouldn’t want that,” Rod said. “We will stay closer next time.”
“Great,” the ranger said. I could hear him clicking the lid back onto his water bottle, and my stomach was starting to leak a little of the worry out of it. “The last thing I’ll need to see is your permits, please.” My heart sank.
The fire returned to my face in a wave. Permit. How the hell could I have forgotten a permit!
You didn’t forget, my mind told me. Remember driving by the office? Not staying on a site, or using any designated trail, well it appears you are using a designated trail. Should have done your research Skylar.
“I think I’ve got it here somewhere,” Rod said, reaching an arm into his satchel sitting in the leaves beside him. “Ah, here we go.” He pulled out a crumpled piece of pink paper which he handed to the ranger. I listened, still staring at my hands, as he unwrinkled the sheet. Maybe one permit would be enough for him.
“There’s only one name on here,” he said. His tone was surprised, not angry, so I judged that to be in my favor.
“Oh did I forget to get his name on it?” I looked over at Rod for the first time, our eyes met for a minute and he flashed me a small wink.
“You two are together I assume?” the ranger asked.
“Yes, he’s my nephew,” Rod said. “He ran to the washrooms while I went in to get the permit and must have forgotten to add his name to the permit. He was a last minute decision on the trip so you know how those things work.” The ranger nodded.
“Well, what’s your name son?” I looked up just to be sure he was speaking to me, then back at my hands again.
“Skylar,” I told him.
“Simmons.” The man pulled a pen from his breast pocket and wrote something on the sheet and handed it back to Rod.
“That’s alright,” he said, waving a hand. I figured it okay to stop studying my feet as it was starting to feel like we were getting out of this one unscathed. “It happens all the time, just try and not forget next time.”
“You got it,” Rod said.
“Have a safe trip,” he said, and with that he turned and left. It took him a few moments to disappear around the edge of the rock face, but when he did I found I couldn’t meet Rod’s eyes again.
“Why did you do that?” I asked him.
“Do what?” he asked.
“Keep him from dragging me out of here?” Rod stared at me as if I had just told him he’d grown an extra ear. I started to laugh, not at him, but the situation itself. “You would have gotten exactly what you wanted, I would have been out of the woods and no money for me.” Rod glanced over my shoulder, as if he could spot the ranger and call him back to take back all he had just said, then he shrugged his shoulders.
“I guess I don’t always think things all the way through. Sound familiar?” I shook my head and nodded.
“Also, I think I kind of want to see how this turns out, I think it may be kind of cool to see if this money is real or not.” I debated bringing up the topic that when we found the money, I was planning on keeping it. All of it. I didn’t though, I figured it was a topic better left for another time.
“So, able to walk yet?” he asked. I looked down at my legs, trying to judge their temperature, not an easy task with your eyes. I bent at the knees, feeling the blood beginning to move inside them, rushing from the places it had settled in my still muscles. I half-expected my heart to stop beating, or to seize over with convulsions, but neither happened.
“Yeah I think I’m good.” I said.
“Yes.” Rod said. I looked over at him.
“Yes, not yeah, yeah makes you sound like a shit.” I shook my head.
“Whatever.” I reached over and grabbed my shoes from their spot on the rock. They were fairly dry, but feeling the insides there was still some dampness. I sucked it up though, I was eager to get moving again, and didn’t want to spend another night out in the bush. I briefly thought about my truck parked in the bush off the highway. Was it still sitting there?
Both of us got up. Rod pulled his small bag over his shoulder and moved out of the way as I reached for my pack. It felt like it had gained weight as I lifted it from the ground and slung it over my shoulder.
“I think I should rephrase my question.” Rod said, turning around. His pony tail hung low on his back as he craned his head up at the cliff face beside us. “Are you able to climb yet?” The pack seemed to gain an extra twenty pounds with the finishing of his sentence.
“You don’t think there’s any other way around?” I asked. We both looked either way, and all there was to see was a high cliff face stretching out in either direction like a wall
“I think we’re shit out of luck on that one,” Rod said. “We could try and walk down one way and try and find a less steep spot to try and climb up.” The wall of rock pushed its way up through the trees until it breeched the canopy and the high leaves on the trees obscured the rest of it from view.
“That’s probably a good idea,” I said. I was holding my camera again and was sure to get lots of good shots of the cliff and of Rod beside it to show for scale.
“Which way?” Rod asked.
“Doesn’t matter to me,” I said, staring into the viewfinder of the camera, turning down the aperture to accommodate the lower amount of light.
“Well you’re the director,” Rod said. I thought I could hear a hint of sarcasm in his voice, but I chose to ignore it.
“Let’s just go up,” I said.
“Up,” I said. “Let’s not waste any more time walking away from where we want to go, let’s just go for it.” I didn’t really want to do this. I felt like if I started to climb up the rocks and lost my balance even in the slightest, my heavy pack would pull me off and gravity would do the rest. I was only saying it because I wanted my audience to think I had that adventurous thrill-seeking attitude.
“Is that what you really want to do?” Rod asked, turning around and looking at me. He wasn’t looking at the camera, but at me behind it.
“Yes,” I said. Rod shrugged.
“Alright then.” With Rod in the lead we started to climb. The sun was beaming in through the canopy and we had gone no more than ten yards up the hill/cliff face before I was sweating. The back of my shirt was soaked, and the camera started to feel slimy in my palm.
“Hold up, hold up,” I gasped. I threw my bag off my back and slammed into a particularly large boulder and rolled off. It would have cost me a walk back down the hill and probably a few broken camera lenses if not for Rod who reached back and snagged the strap before it could fall off. I could see the veins sticking out on his forearms. He had rolled up the sleeves of the plaid shirt he wore and I could see sweat gleaming there.
“Thanks,” I said. I pulled my own water bottle from the side pocket of my bag and started to drink.
“I’d take it a little easy on that,” Rod said, taking a small sip of his own.
“Why?” I asked. “You think we’re going to get lost and stranded in the middle of Algonquin Park?” I looked around us. “We just saw a park ranger not two hours ago,” I said with a laugh.
“Yeah, and I’m sure you figured you’d nearly get hypothermia on your first night in the woods,” Rod replied. My mouth closed with a snap and I looked away. No, I hadn’t planned on that, and the most disappointing thing about it was that my camera had died and I’d gotten nothing of it on footage. Rod crouched down and sat on the rock beside me.
“You’ve got a lot to learn, Skylar,” he said.
“Easy grandpa,” I said. “I don’t need any life lessons from you.” I reached into my bag and pulled the small tin from the front pocket. Rod watched my actions intently and I watched his eyes bug out as I opened the tin revealing what was inside.
“You’re fucking kidding me,” Rod said.
“Not in the slightest,” I said, proud I was able to evoke such an emotion in the oldtimer. “You want some.”
“No,” Rod said. “Not in the slightest.” His face had visibly paled. I shrugged my shoulders and plucked one of the joints from the row lining the tin. Pinching it in my lips I pulled the lighter out from the same pocket and replaced the tin.
“Let’s go,” Rod said, getting up from his rock and continuing to climb.
“Wait,” I said, feeling the joint bobbing between my lips. “Let me smoke this first.”
“No,” was his simple reply.
“Come on man, it will only take a few minutes,” I said. He didn’t respond and continued to climb. I grabbed my own bag and continued after him. Maybe it was a ploy to get to the money first, or maybe he was just against drugs, either way, I wasn’t going to let him walk off. “Wait up man!” I pulled myself up between two large rocks and bent my head forward trying to catch up. In my rush, my shoes slipped on the carpet of pine needles beneath me and sent me sprawling. I landed awkwardly between the rocks and felt a rather aggressive pain flare up in my side.
“Fuck! Rod, wait!” I called. He wasn’t waiting though. He was further up than I could dream of being at that moment, and he kept going. I cursed the heavy bag on my back and pulled myself off the ground. The rock beside me was covered in a thin layer of lichen and I parked my ass on top of it. The joint was still between my lips and I flicked it alight. The blood was pumping in my ears and it felt like all my muscles were burning from the exercise.
“Let’s go.” I heard Rod call, his voice was distant, and when I looked up he was turned around and facing me. He was far up that if I held my finger before my eye I could make him disappear.
“You’re going to have to wait now,” I called back. I inhaled on the joint and held in the smoke, relishing this burn more than the one currently going on in my muscles. The joint disappeared quicker than I hoped and by the end I had a pretty good head buzz. The burning in my legs had dissipated. I stood up, hitched the pack over my shoulders and started to climb again.
It went a little smoother this time around. I felt like I could dodge all of the small rocks and sticks that tried to trip me up and I could pull myself up and jump with no trouble at all from one place to the next. I stumbled a few times, but was able to catch myself before I could really tumble backwards.
When I finally reached the spot where Rod stood I was nearly out of breath and could feel sweat all over me. I felt good though.
“What the hell was that about, man?” I asked. “You didn’t have to be such a pussy abou-“
I didn’t get to finish my sentence because before I could get it all out, Rod’s arm had shot out and his hand was clamped tightly around my throat.