I glanced around the glowing embers at the three dower faces. The boys were shivering in the cold, each lost to their own thoughts.
“Hey,” I said, “let’s tell some stories, ok?”
“What? Are you crazy?” Derek, the oldest at 14, always had a cynical side, but the cold had sharpened it considerably.
“No,” I said. “it’s better than just sitting here, isn’t it? When I was a kid I used to spend quite a few nights sitting around a campfire telling stories. You should have heard some of the tales we used to tell. Oh, the mystery, the wonder, the… never mind, I think there are even more stories I’m glad you never heard. But it was great fun at the time. What about it, any stories?”
“I hope you tell a story about Florida so I can at least think warm thoughts while I freeze to death,” Derek said.
Jason, the 11-year-old, giggled, but Teddy said in the matter of fact way reserved for 8-year-olds, said, “I don’t think you have to worry about dying. We’ve been out in colder. Remember last year when it snowed on us when we were camping in the White Mountains?”
“That’s right Teddy,” I said. “We aren’t going to freeze to death by any stretch. In a bit I’ll build the fire up a little more, but I like the glowing embers now. Anyway, Teddy, do you have a story you want to tell?”
Teddy shook his head, no.
“I have one,” Derek said.
“OK, go ahead.”
“Once upon a time a man and his three sons were driving on a road that hadn’t been used since perhaps before the Civil War. They reached a washed-out spot and got out to look. The old deer path gave out from under their car and the car tumbled down the hill, leaving them stuck thousands of miles from civilization.”
“You have a gripping way with words, my son, but let’s save that story for another night, OK? Anyone else?”
“My teacher told us a story about the Donner Party,” Jason said. “I can tell that one.”
“Cool, a story about a party,” Teddy said.
“No, I don’t think that’s a good story for tonight,” I said. “How about we make up a legend about this place? I’ll start. After I say a few sentences someone else can pick up the thread and continue. OK?”
The boys didn’t answer, just sat staring into the fire.
“Back before the European settlers arrived, the spirit of the great woods was trying to find a suitable husband for his daughter. He came to the untamed culvert and met the first suitor, a bear. Now the bear said…”
“Hey dad, are there bears in these woods?” Teddy asked.
“Yeah, and they’ll eat anyone sleeping out here, the younger and more tender the better” Derek said.
“Don’t listen to him,” I said. “There may be bears in these woods, but if there are, they’ll leave us alone. To be safe we can’t sleep with any food, OK? That’s why I tied our stuff up and have it hanging from a tree. Bears don’t eat people, but they may take a fancy to a candy bar.”
“OK,” Teddy said. “Just like any other time we’ve camped, right?”
“Exactly,” I said. “So, does anyone want to pick up the story?”
I was met with silence.
Jason, who had been more withdrawn than usually, particularly after his Donner party comment, looked up at me.
“Dad,” he said, “how long do you think it’ll be before they find us?”
All three sets of eyes were on my, questioning me.
I smiled and shrugged my shoulders. I wish I knew.
— — — —
— — — —
Although this story was written as a stand alone story, I have continued it with a next installment, Derek (Luck).