After five days of cowering and nothing but bad news (The prof is gone. So is whoever went with him. As Suze says, this surprises nobody.) everybody in camp seems to finally have gotten it through their heads that staying out here is a momentously bad idea.
Lyle approached me this morning as I was working on getting our chargers set up again after the recent rainstorm had blown them halfway across camp. Waterproof? Yes. Windproof? Not so much. The recent rainstorm. It was early but most of us were awake; insomnia's drifted through camp like a plague and infected just about everybody.
"We need to get out of here."
Tell me something I don't know, Lyle. I continue to play with the wires and test the chargers, praying that we haven't lost them due to carelessness. If some of the insulation was stripped off of even one of the wires we'd take a major hit.
Now that catches my attention. "Another one, eh?" My eyes trailed along the camp boundary into the forests. Overcast skies meant there was no bright orange sun to paint the leaves golden, and everything just looked dull and gray. "Sure she's not just out taking photos?"
The glare he sends me is so sharp and incredulous it catches Elliott's attention behind me. It's clear Lyle is in no mood to argue, so he only reiterates.
"We need to get out of here."
The urgency in his tone is unsettling.
"The GPSs are broken and the compasses are all spinning." I states matter-of-factly, stifling a yawn. "We can't get back to the campgrounds with them."
"We've got the trail," It's Elliott who speaks next, moving beside me and rubbing sleep out of his eyes. "It'll take longer than going directly but, hey, it'll lead us to the grounds."
I shake my head. "This forest is a maze of trails and cliffs and rivers and dead ends. It'll take us weeks."
It's Richard who comes in next. "Finally, some fucking IQ." He's got his butterfly knife and is letting is fall naturally from his hand. Everybody takes an instinctual step away. "And who said we had to get out of here on our first try, weatherman?"
I'm not even going to ask where he came up with that nickname.
It was about eight then, but I'm rather skeptical about trusting my phone's internal clock because it told me it was 00:30 when the sun was out and aforementioned rainstorm settled in. It's Lyle, Richard, Nick and myself who end up forming the party. Elliott convinces Nick to go in his stead and slinks back into camp, presumably to poke at the ashes of the fire and polish his guitar.
He's going to kill me for that later.
Before we left Richard made a point to cut Xs into all of the large trees surrounding camp so that anybody who ventured outside would know when they were close. This seems to unnerve Lyle quite a bit but he refuses to tell us why.
I have to admit, I wasn't exactly ecstatic. It wouldn't be the first time a group of people had gotten lost in the woods and ended up wandering in circles until they collapsed out of exhaustion, and it certainly wouldn't be the last.
Well, luckily it only ended up being the former, and not the latter.
The trails were slick and more mud than anything and at least two of us took a tumble and twisted an ankle. Nick wouldn't stop complaining about his shoes getting dirty, which Richard took as a cue to tell him to kindly shut his fucking mouth and let the grown-ups do the talking and wave his butterfly knife around like it was a judge's gavel. He promptly shut his fucking mouth and let the grown-ups to do the talking and spent the rest of the trip in a mix of silent fear and shame.
Allow me to put this into perspective for you. Convincing Nicholas Day to be quiet is like convincing grass to cut itself; both physically impossible (as the grass lacks the intelligence to comprehend the command) and very, very stupid.
Richard Battle did it.
So with that little bit of insanity out of the way the rest of what I scarcely call an exploration was spent in scattered silence (or what passes for silence in the forest) before the coughing began.
Now, this has become a bit of a bad joke around camp. Anybody who spends time out in the forest gets this horrible cough that makes Lyle and Suze look at each other like death itself has just passed through the camp. What makes it worse is that Lyle seems to have it even more than Zach did, and even in camp he can't seem to shake it. The more time we spent out here the worse it gets and Chase says it's downright weird.
It's clear to Richard, Walter and I that they both know something but aren't about to admit it. The fact that they were both arguably the closest to Zach also seems a little too coincidental, but maybe it's too early to start pointing fingers.
But I digress.
We've been walking for two hours. The trail has split and we decided to head east, (or what we think is east; it's next to impossible to tell with the sun covered and none of our compasses or GPSs working) away from the general direction of camp. Zach had told us that we'd reach a small river if we headed this way, where a bridge has long since been destroyed and nobody's bothered to build a new one - you have to cross on fallen logs.
We didn't find the bridge.
We didn't find a river.
What did we find?
X's on trees.
And the smell of a campfire.
Lyle was shocked to silence. Nick took twenty steps back the way we came and couldn't see the fork, only where the trail disappeared beneath the forest canopy. There wasn't anything to suggest that the path would split and lead back to where we had set up, and checking the maps later told us that Zach was right; we should have hit a river and a bridge.
We had walked in a circle on a path that was a straight line.
Either we can't navigate for our lives or the space-time continuum is giving us one giant middle finger, and with everything that's happened lately I'm starting to believe it's the latter.
Nothing about this trip has been normal.
Why ship us across the country?
Why do none of us seem to have anything in common - academic or otherwise?
Why so far away from the campgrounds?
Why the blog?
And why is there a sickness that's clearly more than allergies, why haven't people been sleeping, why haven't those who have been screaming in their sleep, who followed Elliott in the forest, (because I know for a fact that Nick was at camp) and what the hell is going on?
I'm going to read through Zach's drafts and posts. Suze seemed very quick to delete a lot of what he was posting, but some of the stuff is still here. It's got to be more than coincidence that the two who were closest to Zach seem to be taking this the most seriously.