“This is as far as I go,” the crusty old cab driver barks as he stops in front of a long dirt road that disappears into the woods.
“How far is it to the wilderness camp?” I ask.
“Pretty far, I would imagine. It’s not visible from the road at all.”
“And how am I supposed to get there?”
“I guess you’re just going to have to walk.”
I laugh until I realize he’s not joking. He expects me to walk into the woods on a dirt road that is God knows how long.
Then I realize I’ll also have to carry my bag as well. I could barely carry my suitcase to the front stoop for him to place in his truck.
“I can only take the cab on paved roads,” he tells me. “Company rules.”
Is that supposed to make me feel better? It doesn’t.
I heave a huge sigh. “How much do I owe you?”
I hand him three ten dollar bills, plus a five dollar tip.
“Let me get your bag out of the trunk.”
When he exits the cab I take a moment to compose myself. I’m already so far out of my comfort zone I feel like I’m having a panic attack, and I haven’t even made it to the camp yet.
You’re an intelligent woman with a doctoral degree, I remind myself. You can do this.
By the time I exit the cab my bag is already on the side of the road waiting for me.
“Good luck,” the cab driver says.
It probably wasn’t the smartest idea I ever had to wear a dress and pumps. In my defense I don’t have much else in my wardrobe. Work attire and lounging outfits for around the house are about it. When I teach I always wear a dress or a suit with dress shoes. I wouldn’t be caught dead outside of my home in one of my lounging outfits.
Calling the dirt pathway a road is extremely generous. The trail is much rockier and uneven than I initially thought. The shoes I’m wearing are not even close to being appropriate for the conditions. I’ll be lucky if I don’t turn an ankle.
My suitcase is another problem entirely. I can barely make it a few feet before I have to set it down. The muscles in my arms are already throbbing and I haven’t even made it far enough to spot the end of the trail yet.
Luckily it’s still early in the day. I’ve got many hours of sunlight left. Even if it takes me several hours walking a few steps at a time I should make it there before dark.
Unless it’s a few miles to the camp, then I’ll be in a bit of trouble.
Two hours and thirty seven minutes later I’ve had about all that I can take. My feet are blistered and aching. I’m afraid when I finally remove my shoes my feet will be bloody as well.
My arms are so weak I don’t think I can lift the suitcase again.
And I’m on the verge of complete exhaustion.
What was I thinking packing so much stuff? I was thinking I’ll be here an entire month and I need reading materials.
Here is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road.
Those words from T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’ seem appropriate right now. I take a seat on my suitcase and wipe the sweat from my brow with a tissue that I just happened to have shoved in my pocket. I can’t even remember the last time I sweated. It may have been in high school when we were forced to play those utterly horrendous sports in our Physical Education classes.
I was supposed to be at the apex of my career this year. I was finally promoted from Associate to Full Professor. Edgar had been hinting that when he retired I was first in line to take over as Chairperson of the English Department. I was just a few months away from paying off the mortgage on my house.
Now it looks like I might lose everything, and I’m sitting in the middle of the woods helpless to do anything about it. Edgar was not happy when I told him I needed to take a month of personal leave and he’d need to find a substitute to teach my classes. That coupled with the fact that my arrest and conviction has tarnished the reputation of the institution does not bode well for me still having a career upon my return from this journey into the wilderness.
The sun is starting to get higher overhead, and it’s beating down on me. I’m not sure how much of the blistering brightness my pale skin can take. I should probably edge closer to the tree line where it’s shaded, but I’m too exhausted to move.
I’m just about to fall asleep seated on my suitcase when a large pickup truck whizzes by. I try to raise a hand to wave the driver over, but to no avail. My arm won’t lift high enough.
Instead I choke on the dust left in the truck’s wake.
Then to my surprise the trucks comes to a screeching halt, reverses and heads back towards me.
When I rise to greet the driver my legs feel like cooked noodles. They’re so weak I can barely control them as I move towards the truck.
My eyes go wide when I see who has hopped out of the vehicle. The driver is a young, petite woman of Asian descent.
From the neck up she’s beautiful, with long silky dark hair and perfect features. From the neck down she’s dressed like a man. She’s wearing well-worn jeans, black combat boots and a green Army jacket.
“Are you lost?” Her tone is accusatory, definitely not friendly.
I shake my head.
“You know this road leads to a wilderness camp for troubled teens.”
She looks me up and down. “You don’t look like you’re ready for the wilderness, and you’re definitely not a teenager.”
“I’m aware of that.” My voice is weary. “I’m court ordered to be here. Community service.”
She rolls her eyes. “Lucky us.”
“Unfortunately the cab driver wouldn’t take me beyond the main road. I’ve been walking for hours.”
“Would you like a lift?” She raises an eyebrow.
“That would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.”
She lets down the tailgate of the pickup, presumably for me to place my luggage in the empty truck bed.
I do my best to drag the suitcase over to the truck, but I feel like my muscles are on fire. There is no way I’m going to be able to lift the suitcase into the back of the vehicle.
The woman and I both stare at the suitcase for several moments.
“You can’t lift it, can you?” she asks finally.
I shake my head.
“Unbelievable.” She grabs the suitcase like it’s no heavier than a rag doll and tosses it into the back of her truck. Then she slams the tailgate of the truck closed.
She glares at me for several seconds. “I have some advice for you. Never pack more than you can carry.”
Before I have a chance to respond she marches over to the driver’s side of the truck and hops in.
I hurry over to the passenger side of the vehicle and stare at it for a few moments. I’m five feet seven inches tall. The woman is easily five inches shorter than me and she got into the truck with very little effort. I have no idea how I’m going to climb into this thing, particularly in my dress and heels.
“Are you coming?” She glares at me again. She’s very good at glaring. Despite her small stature she’s quite intimidating.
“If you’ll give me just a few seconds I need to figure out how to get inside of this truck.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.”
She jumps back out of the vehicle, makes her way around to my side then gives me an extremely hard shove right on my buttocks which propels me enough that I’m able to climb into the seat.
She stomps back over to her side of the truck, leaps into her seat with the ease of a rabbit then slams her door shut.
“Your truck is very high off the ground,” I observe.
“No shit, Sherlock. Now fasten your seatbelt.”
The woman doesn’t say another word to me as we head down the dusty road toward the camp.
Thankfully she parks extremely close to what appears to be a main building. It has a placard which says: The Wild Way Administration.
I do my best to hop out of the truck in my heels. The woman opens the back of the truck, hoists my suitcase out of the truck bed and tosses it on the ground.
She doesn’t wait for me to say anything, not even a thank you. She marches back over to the driver’s side, leaps into the truck like a frog, and drives somewhere behind the administration building.
I’m not sure what to do. I don’t feel like dealing with my suitcase so I just leave it where the woman tossed it. There’s not another soul anywhere so I don’t think it’s in danger of being stolen. Not that my clothing and books would be of value to anyone but me.
I walk up the small set of stairs to the administration office. The building is really just a large cabin, much like all of the other smaller cabins scattered about the heavily wooded property.
Unfortunately the front door is locked. I try knocking, then pounding, but to no avail. The place appears to be deserted.
The person with whom I spoke on the phone, Turner Wild, the program director, told me specifically to report to the camp today. I even wrote it down. He was very short with me, much the way the Asian American woman was, so I wasn’t able to get him to commit to a specific time.
My feet are throbbing. I’m not that motivated to walk over to any of the other cabins, which are a significant distance from this one, several hundred yards at least.
The small porch that I’m standing on doesn’t have any chairs, or seats of any kind, so I guess I’m stuck standing here for a while until someone appears, or I figure out something else to do.
I wait for what feels like an hour, but when I glance at my watch I realize only twenty minutes have actually gone by. Time seems to pass very slowly when I don’t have my nose firmly planted in a book.
That’s when I hear rustling on the roof of the administration building. Panic begins to set in when some tree debris fly off the roof and nearly hit me.
What’s up there? Is it some kind of animal?
Then I hear stomping—loud, heavy stomping—right above me. Is it possible for a bear to climb on a rooftop?
My chest tightens and I feel like I can’t breathe. I’m going to get killed by a bear and I haven’t even started working here yet.
More tree debris rain down on me: branches, bark, pine cones.
What is going on up there?
Then I hear hammering. To my knowledge bears don’t know how to use hammers. Is Turner Wild on the roof? Or maybe the woman who gave me a lift in her truck?
“Hello?” I shout when the hammering stops. “Hello?”
“You made it,” a male voice shouts back.
I nearly jump out of my shoes when the guy, presumably Turner Wild, jumps down from the roof and lands on the porch next to me.
“Community service?” He places his hammer on the porch rail next to him and wipes his dirty hands on the sides of his jeans.
“That’s what I’m here for.”
The man is different than how I pictured him from our very brief phone conversation. I thought he’d be a lot younger, maybe late twenties or early thirties, but he looks more like he’s my age, mid-to-late forties.
That’s not to say there isn’t a youthful air about him.
Everything about this man is rugged and outdoorsy. His brown hair is cut in a short, military-style haircut. His strong features look a bit rough and weatherworn. His dark jeans and t-shirt are tight fitting and display every one of the large muscles on his exceptionally masculine body.
And he’s wearing a very large knife hanging from his belt. I’m not surprised he runs a wilderness camp. It would be difficult to imagine someone who looks the way he does doing anything else.
Well, maybe serving in those Special Operations Forces in the military. I could picture him in one of those SEAL teams like the one that killed Bin Laden.
I decide there are only two likely vocations for this man: killing bears or killing Bin Laden.
His sea green eyes are like lasers as he stares at me. I’m immediately uncomfortable. I wonder if there is any way I could contact the judge and tell her I’ve changed my mind. Fifteen months in jail is starting to seem much more desirable than a month in the woods with this frightening character.
I extend a hand because I’m not sure what else to do. “Hello, I’m Dr. Daniels.”
He stares at my limb like I’m a leper. Then he looks me up and down. “What kind of doctor are you?”
I clear my throat. “I’m an English professor.”
He laughs. “So you’re not a real doctor.”
I immediately bristle at his ignorant comment. I hate when people say that. “For your information the word doctor is derived from the Latin word docēre which means to teach. The title Doctor has been used for centuries in Europe as a designation for someone who has obtained a research doctorate such as a Ph.D. Thus a person with a medical degree is more accurately described as a physician, not a doctor.”
He pats my shoulder in the most condescending way imaginable, like I’m some kind of pet. “Whatever you say, Doc.”
“Why are you touching me?” His hand is still on my arm. I can feel the heat from his body move through mine. It’s extremely disconcerting.
“Sorry.” He stares at me for a long moment before he removes his hand.
I try to brush away the tingly feeling flowing down my limb. “Why did you call me Doc? This isn’t a cartoon. You’re not Bugs Bunny.”
He laughs again. I don’t like people who laugh so easily. I’m immediately suspicious of them.
“I’m serious,” I tell him. “There’s no reason to laugh.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re wound up tighter than Dick’s hatband?”
I glare at him. Does that expression even make sense? I have no idea what he means, but it feels like an insult. And he’s smirking, which makes it worse.
He looks me up and down. “You can’t wear that.”
“This is a wilderness camp, Doc. We’ll be getting down and dirty. Living in the woods. You can’t wear a dress and heels.”
“I’d appreciate it if you called me something other than Doc. Dr. Daniels would be fine. Or Ms. Daniels. Or my first name, Bly, if you insist. Just not Doc.”
“I could call you Community Service. Would that be better?”
I shake my head.
“That’s what I thought. What about the clothes, Doc?”