Lost In The Woods

The forest is home to animals that want to eat you.

Wolves are especially dangerous because they dress like grandmothers and say things to throw you off guard. Grizzlies are just as bad. They see you and they start polishing the silverware.

A few Octobers ago a Cub Scout troop descended on a campground just over the state line. The small wooded acreage brought in a little cash for farmers who worked at the GM plant until it closed.

Tents were pitched. A lady named Peggy grilled burgers and dogs. A bonfire was lit. The night had turned cold and various critters rustled around the tents causing some kids to climb into their parents’ sleeping bags — the older scouts wouldn’t have to know.

The air was pure oxygen the next morning. After a warm breakfast a party set out to explore the environs. Everybody wanted to strike camp early because of the NFL game that afternoon so one of the fathers stayed behind to police the grounds.

When the hikers got back, his son wasn’t with them. No one seemed concerned about the missing boy — except his father of course.

The man squared his shoulders, squinted into the sun and ventured out alone.

He followed the trail that rolled to the right. Nothing. A child shorter than the undergrowth would be difficult to spot. He came to the loop where the paths intersected. Again, nothing.

He was well-aware that a nine-year-old carried away by the Chippewa would be initiated as a brave and end up on the warpath against the Great Chief in Washington, meaning that he would never be eligible for Federal Student Financial Assistance.

He tried to think what Liam Neeson would do.

Tick, tick, tick.

Then on a rise worn bare by the wind, something yellow darted between the trees. The man ran to a clearing where he finally got a visual lock on his boy.

Hiding any trace of panic he approached and asked his son how he was doing.

“Can we get shakes on the way home?” the kid answered. Then he mentioned how much he liked being alone in the woods. He said it was awesome.

The dangers were imagined that Sunday morning, but the fears were real. This was just the latest installment on the price of being a father. The man drove home knowing his account was current, its balance was paid in full.

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