Rats, Let’s Pack
By Audrey W. and Tracy R.
Johnny leaned over and
fiddled with the radio before looking at Chet in the rearview mirror.
“Gage, can’t you get a decent station on that radio yet?” the curly haired fireman moaned.
“Here, let me try,” Roy interjected from the passenger seat in front. He reached over, trying to turn the knob on the radio.
Johnny shoved the older paramedic’s hand away. “I’ll get it...I’ll get it. Just give me a minute, will ya? Geesh.” He sighed.
Gage was finally able to get a station to come in with minimal static. The song 'Rocky Mountain High' played on the speakers. “Now this is a song for a drive out of the city.” Johnny smiled, looking out the windshield at the rolling hills around them.
The three firemen had plans for a weekend in the hills north of Los Angeles. Fishing poles and gear packed, they headed up to a cabin a friend of Chet’s owned, hoping for a relaxing two days of hiking and fishing.
= = = =
"This is going to be
great," Johnny announced, rubbing his hands together eagerly.
"Uh, Partner? Both hands on the wheel here?" Roy looked out the window nervously as they passed a particularly steep embankment.
Johnny glanced over at him. "Roy, you're just too tense. See, now this is why this trip is going to be good for you. You need a chance to get away."
"Yeah," Chet muttered from the back seat. "But what he needs to get away from is you!"
"Shut up, Chet," Roy and Johnny said simultaneously, without even glancing back.
"Hey now," Kelly whined, leaning forward to rest his arms on the back of the seat. "Just whose friend is it with the cabin? I think you both owe me."
Johnny chose to ignore Chet and his comments, tossing a grin at Roy. "Man, I can taste those fish already. I'm sure glad you decided to come with us."
"I wasn't going to at first," Roy admitted. "But when Joanne heard you talking about it, she decided it would be good for me. She's on some kick about me needing to get out more. Says I watch too much television."
Johnny grinned. "Yeah, she got onto both of us for that last time I was over for supper, remember?"
"Chicks just don't get it, man," Chet piped up from the back. "They don't understand our methods of relaxing. Sometimes I don't know why we put up with them at all."
"Oh, I'm sure Roy could elaborate on that one a bit, huh, buddy?" Johnny grinned, watching the red flush creep up on Roy's cheeks.
"Could we change the subject now, please?" Roy asked. "Johnny, are you sure you know where you’re going? I thought we would have found the place by now." Roy pushed his arms up over his head, stretching. "I'm getting pretty tired of riding."
Johnny frowned briefly, glancing over his shoulder at Chet. "Chet? Where's that map you had?"
"Cool it, Gage. We'll be seeing the turn off any minute now," Chet assured them. "I know this area like the back of my hand."
"Oh, that's reassuring," Johnny said sarcastically. "This from the guy that got lost on the way to the station last week."
"I told you there was a detour, and I thought I knew a shortcut!" Chet's voice rose an octave as he became agitated.
"Yeah, and because of that, we were nearly late, and ended up with latrine duty!" Johnny was starting to drive erratically, trying to stare down Chet in the rear view mirror.
"Hey, at least I was kind enough to give you a ride to work when this old, broken-down jeep of yours got a flat!"
The squabbling continued until Roy had had enough. "Guys!" he admonished loudly. "I'm out here to rest and relax, not be the mediator between you two. I get enough of that at home," he added under his breath. "Now this is supposed to be a nice little vacation in the hills. Were going to rest, relax, catch fish, and just enjoy the view. Got it?" He turned a stern glare first on Johnny, who nodded quietly; then turned to Chet. "Got it?"
Chet's mouth was a sullen pout, but quickly cleared. "Okay, got it. Man, Roy, you're good. And you're right. We're just three guys out here having fun. What could go wrong?"
Roy sighed, and turned to look out the window. "Yeah, Chet," he echoed. "What could go wrong?"
= = = =
“Where?” Johnny asked quickly looking around for a road to turn off on, as he slammed on the brakes. “Did I miss it? I don’t see a turn off anywhere.”
“It was back there,” Chet said, turning to look out the back window.
“I don’t see a road there, Chet” Johnny was sticking his head out the window, looking back to where they had just passed. He glanced in the rearview mirror at the fireman. “You sure about this?”
“Yes, I’m sure!” The irritation in Chet’s voice grew. “I told you, I know this area like the back of my hand.”
“How often do you actually look at the back of your hand?” Johnny asked, as he threw the Rover in reverse.
Roy glanced first at Johnny, then at Chet and shook his head. These two are never gonna survive two days in a cabin. “How far from here IS this cabin, Chet?”
“Oh, I’d say maybe two miles off the main road. You know, give or take a mile.”
Johnny had backed up to where a hint of a road was off to the right. A lot of grass and weeds had grown over in the dirt, covering what apparently was once a narrow road, mostly made by just a vehicle traveling over it to wear tracks in the dirt. “This is it?” Johnny asked.
“Yeah. Dale hasn’t been up here for awhile so I guess things have kind of changed a little.”
“Yeah, I’d say.” Johnny snorted. He put the Rover in gear and, turning right, started up the grassy road.
The men were quiet as Johnny drove along with the bushes on either side almost close enough to rub and scratch the vehicle as it went along. If one seemed closer on one side than the other, Johnny would turn slightly to avoid the branches reaching out. After about three miles, Roy finally spoke up.
“Chet, I thought you said this place was about two miles off the main road.”
“Give or take a mile...I said give or take a mile. I guess it was give,” Chet clarified. “It should be just a ways up here now.”
Roy nodded, turning around.
= = = =
five miles and Johnny found himself pulling up in front of a worn wooden cabin.
He stopped the car, put it in park and turned around to face Chet. “Just two
miles huh? Give or take a mile...try eight miles, Chet. And six miles EXTRA.”
He shook his head. “Sure you know this place.”
“Hey, I got us here, didn’t I?” Chet asked defensively.
Shrugging off the extra miles driven, Johnny grinned. “Yeah, ya did.” His voice held excitement like a boy on Christmas morning as he continued, looking out the windows at the area around them. “ Man, look at the scenery around this place! The hills, the trees, the clear blue sky...now this is what I call paradise!”
"Yeah, Paradise," Roy muttered. He suddenly found himself wishing he was back at home watching TV.
= = = =
The cabin consisted of a large main room that served as a kitchen and livingroom. There was an old brown tweed couch against the left wall, and across the room a wood burning stove. A sink and counter top with cabinets underneath was several feet away from the stove, and a small square refrigerator sat in between. Near the couch, there was a card table and four metal chairs. A small lamp was on the table. The doorway leading to the bedroom and bathroom was on the far wall.
Johnny stood looking around at the room, not sure what to say. This was hardly paradise. When no one else complained, he decided not to be the one to start.
“It’s not bad,” he said, looking around once more. “Not bad at all.”
Roy looked at his partner like he was nuts, but didn’t want to be the first to complain either.
“Well, should we unload the car and get set up?” the older man said, hoping to make the best of things.
Chet grinned. “Sure! The sooner we unload, the sooner we can kick back and relax!”
= = = =
After the three men had finally managed to get everything unloaded from the Land Rover, Chet sat down on the couch. “You know what would really taste good right now?”
Roy was coming out of the bedroom after using the bathroom and Johnny was just heading to take his turn.
“A cold beer.”
“Yeah, well you may need one after you get a look in here.”
Both Gage and Kelly threw puzzled expressions at their friend. Johnny pushed past Roy to see what he was referring to, as Chet got up from the couch.
“A trundle bed?” Came Gage’s voice out of the bedroom. He stepped back into the main room, shaking his head. “A TRUNDLE BED. . .I get the stationary one,” he quickly added.
“We take turns each night,” Chet suggested.
“Okay, we take turns each night. But I get it tonight.”
Roy waited patiently as the two settled the issue. Either way, he was going to end up on the floor one night. No sense adding confusion.
“Why should you get it first?” Chet wondered.
Roy grinned. “He’s got a point. I’ll take the floor and a sleeping bag.”
Chet went into the room and looked at the twin bed with the other one stored underneath it. The others followed behind.
“Okay,” Kelly conceded, “But when it’s time to go to bed, I’m pushing it into the oter room.”
= = = =
A short time later the guys were outside chopping wood. As son as they had sat down to rest, they remembered that the stove needed wood and it was better they got it taken care of soon.
“Some relaxing day,” Johnny said sarcastically. “If I was any MORE relaxed--”
“Hey, at least Dale left us a stack of wood to work with,” Chet defended.
Gage had to admit that was a good point. Although he loved to hike, he was glad they didn’t have to go in search of wood. An electric stove would have been better overall, but since the wood burning one often served as a heater as well, he understood the need to have it instead.
After grabbing a freshly
cut log that promptly gave him a big splinter in his thumb, Roy retreated into
the cabin, waving off any offers of help from his friends. If he could get
splinters out of his kids’ fingers, he could certainly handle his own.
"Ow," Roy glared at the offending sliver in his finger. He soon managed to get it out with not too much trouble. Johnny had brought a first-aid kit, so cleaning the small wound was no problem. The well water Roy got out of the kitchen faucet to wash his thumb was cold enough to numb it, which brought on another realization. There was no hot water heater to warm the water they’d be using.
"Guess we won't be rushing to take too many showers up here," Roy mumbled, turning as Johnny and Chet entered the room, once again in a disagreement. His words fell on deaf ears.
"Now, Chet, I'm telling you if we don't lay this type of wood in there first, it's going to burn up everything we try to cook!" Johnny turned toward Roy after dumping the stack of wood he was carrying beside the stove.
"Roy, tell him! That wood needs to be on the bottom--"
Chet quickly interrupted. "Roy, just which one of us is it here that specializes in fires? Would I try and tell you guys how to bandage something? Noooo . . .and yet, hot shot here thinks he knows more about building fires than I do," He turned back toward Johnny with a scowl on his face.
you’re a fireman,” Gage reasoned. “As in fighting fires, not building ‘em.”
Roy just shook his head, and went outside while the arguing continued unabated. He looked around as he wandered in a big circle around the cabin. Johnny was right about one thing . ..looking at the hills in the distance, the blue sky, listening to the birds...it really was beautiful. This was going to be a great few days. Assuming Chet and Johnny didn't kill each other first.
= = = =
peeked his head into the cabin, getting the attention of the other two arguing
men. “Hey! You guys want to try some fishing so we have use for that wood you’ve
been going on about?”
Chet and Johnny both standing in defensive stances at each other, turned to face Roy. “Yeah!” Chet answered. “That is unless Gage here thinks he has a better idea.”
Johnny glowered at Chet. “Oh lighten up, Chester B. I was just trying to help with the firewood. I do a lot of camping, myself, ya know.” He grinned. “But kicking back, relaxing with a fishing line sitting in the water waiting for a bite...well, that sounds like just what we need right now.”
= = = =
Carrying their fishing gear, the three men hiked down a hill, through the bushes
to where a small river ran through the area.
“This is great, Chet! Your friend Dale knew what he was doing when he built a cabin here!” Johnny exclaimed, as he seated himself on a log near the water’s edge. “This is great!” he repeated. Johnny opened a tackle box and began rummaging through the supplies.
Roy sat down on a large rock and began to set up his line, too. “Yeah, we’ll have to invite Dale over to the house for a barbeque sometime to pay him back.” He pulled a worm out of a small Styrofoam container and began placing it on the hook “I could do this every weekend...well, if Joanne would let me.”
The guys snickered.
Chet stood up, casting his line into the river and then sat down on the other end of the log from Johnny. “This sure is the life, huh?”
Johnny cast his line in next, and then slid off the log, sitting on the ground, his back resting against it. “Yep. Nothing beats this.”
Chet furrowed his brow looking at the two men there with him. “Well, it would be better if you guys were two good looking chicks instead.”
Johnny shot Chet a dirty look, as Roy tossed a clump of grass at him. In unison the paramedics said, “Shut up, Chet!”
= = = =
an hour and a half later, Roy was getting tired. It was hot, and he hadn't had a
single bite, except for the gnats swarming around his head.
"You ready to head back to the cabin and fix some dinner?" Roy glanced over at Johnny, relaxing in the grass, totally content to just watch the still line in the water.
"Already?" Johnny looked up, surprised. "We haven't caught anything yet. I thought you wanted fish for supper."
"I did. But since this is turning into one of our typical fishing trips, I think I’m gonna go see what we have in the cooler,” Roy grinned. "Joanne said she fixed something for us."
Johnny grinned in return and nodded at Chet, lying prone on the ground with his hat covering his eyes. "What should we do about him? Just leave him there? I'm sure he can find his way back, being as he knows this place like the back of his hand."
"I heard that, Gage," Chet muttered from under the hat. He sat up and looked around, surprised. "Where's all the fish?"
"Still in the water," Johnny replied cheerfully, reeling in his line. "Roy's ready to head back for some supper. You coming?"
”Why not. The fish may not be hungry, but I am.”
= = = =
men entered the cabin, Johnny walked over and plopped down on the old sofa.
“Man, no fish…I was really wanting fish to eat.”
“Never fear, Gage. I came prepared.” Chet opened a duffle bag he had brought in. He pulled out several cans of sardines. “You want fish, I bring you fish…help yourself, gentlemen . . .dinner is on me.”
Johnny’s face turned to a look of disgust. “Sardines? SARADINES, Chet? Those don’t qualify as fish!”
“Hey…I have some peanut butter and crackers if you’d rather have them.”
The dark-haired paramedic rolled his eyes, resting his head on the back of the couch. “Right now a nice, big juicy burger sounds good.”
walked over to the cooler. He had brought it in earlier and set it in a corner
of the large room. Lifting the lid, he peeked inside.
“Looks like Joanne packed us some sandwiches. More than enough for the two and a half days we’re going to be here. Guess she knows us better than we do,” Roy said, grinning.
"Well, sandwiches certainly sound better than sardines," Johnny commented, shooting Chet a look of annoyance.
"What do you want, Johnny? Ham and cheese or peanut better and jelly?"
"Ham and cheese," Johnny deadpanned. He still had his mind on the thought of a juicy hamburger and french fries.
Chet got up to walk over to the cooler. Johnny watched as the fireman made his way over by Roy.
"What are you doing?" the
"I'm getting me a sandwich."
"What about the sardines and crackers?" Johnny asked, still staring at Chet.
"Oh, those were for you, Gage. I'm not going to eat them as long as we have real sandwiches."
Roy tossed Johnny a ham and cheese sandwich in a baggy.
"You two think you can call a truce for the rest of the time we’re here?"
"Sure, Roy," Chet said. "Can't we, Johnny."
"Hmmm? Oh yeah," Johnny agreed, shifting his mouthful of food into the inside of his left cheek. "As long as Chet doesn't say too much, we'll be fine...just fine." He snickered, seeing the irritated look on Chet's face. Got the last word in finally. It's about time.
= = = =
Outside the cabin, a packrat climbed up into the engine area of the Land Rover. Sniffing around, he decided it would be a great place to build a new nest.
= = = =
Roy laid out a sleeping bag and stood above it, his hands on his hips. He thought about putting it on the couch in the other room instead, but the old sofa was lumpy from use and not quite long enough to be comfortable for a man his height. Accepting that this was it for the night, he sighed and slipped into the bag, a t-shirt and white boxer shorts on and his jeans handy beside him.
Johnny was in bed also in a t-shirt and boxers, his jeans folded nearby on the floor. Lying on his back and staring at the ceiling, the paramedic was trying to figure out if a dark spot in the far upper right corner of the room was anything they needed to be concerned about. With the room only lit by the moonlight shining through a window, it was difficult to make things out clearly. So far it hadn't made a move at all which was a good sign. Just as he was about to get out of bed to take a closer look, a loud noise of metal hitting against metal, which was followed by Chet yelling in surprise.
Johnny and Roy both scrambled for the livingroom to see what had happened. When they entered the room, they saw a dejected Chet sitting on the edge of the collapsible bed in his t-shirt and blue boxers, the frame of the bed just a few inches off the floor.
"I sat on it and it shot right down," Kelly explained. "Sorry for the yell, guys, but I wasn't expecting to take a sudden ride straight down to the floor."
"There must be some way to lock it in place so it stays up," Johnny said as he stood looking at the bed with his hands in his hips.
Chet got up off the bed with minimal help from Roy pulling on his right arm. The three men lifted the top frame of the bed at once and searched for any locking mechanism. Roy found what used to be one.
"It's broke. Looks like there used to be a lever here that would lock it in place, but the bracket for it is gone," the blond paramedic explained.
"Well, there's only one thing to do." Chet sat on the bed, which quickly lowered to the floor again. "At least if I fall out of bed, I'm almost on the floor already."
= = = =
Once Johnny and Roy were back in their sleeping spots, the younger paramedic glanced up where the dark spot had been. It was gone.
"Uh. . .Roy?"
Gage gave it some thought. The lighting in the room had changed slightly. So it could have been his imagination. And even if it was an insect or something, they were grown men. They could handle it.
Still, Johnny stared at the empty corner, wondering if his imagination was working overtime.
After a night of just getting a series of cat naps in the sleeping bag, Roy rolled over on his right side. When he opened his eyes, he came face-to-face with a large spider the size of a quarter.
"Geez!" DeSoto yelled in surprise as he sat up and searched for something to squash the spider with.
The yell woke up Johnny. Alarmed, he kicked off the blanket he'd pulled over him and got to his feet, blinking to clear his still half asleep eyes.
"Wha. . .?"
Roy had already picked up one of his partner's hiking boots and smashed the big spider.
"Hey, what're you doin'? That's my boot!"
"Relax, your boot's fine," the older man assured.
Johnny grabbed it and looked in disgust at the big brown blob still stuck to the sole of his shoe. "Did ya have ta use mine?"
"At least you didn't wake up to eight big eyes staring at you."
Gage glanced up at the corner where he'd seen the spot, then back to the bottom of his boot. "Oh. . .uh. . .yeah. Good thing ya woke up, huh?"
"Yeah. I wonder if it got in during the night?"
Johnny shrugged, not wanting to mention what he had seen. . .or more importantly had not seen later. . .when they were going to bed.
The two friends slipped on their jeans and headed for the livingroom.
"Let's see if Chet survived the night," Roy suggested.
Johnny and Roy walked into the other room where they found Chet still snoozing on the bed, a thin tweed blanket sloppily draped over him. Gage signaled for Roy to be quiet, then slowly went over beside the bed. Once there, he yelled, "Chet!"
The stocky fireman sat up, his eyes open wide and he looked around in panic, all in one motion.
The two paramedics busted out laughing.
"Relax, Chet," Johnny said, still snickering.
"I think I was."
Roy shook his head at his partner's antics. "I'm hungry. Let's fix some breakfast."
"Uh. . .Roy?" Johnny began.
"What did we bring for breakfast?"
The senior paramedic shrugged. "Sandwiches."
Gage plopped on the edge of the collapsed bed next to Chet. "Another day of eating sandwiches, I'll turn into one."
Chet looked at the man beside him. "It could be worse."
Roy smiled. "He's right. You could be in the bathroom trying to take a shower in ice cold water."
Johnny screwed up his face. "You're making that up, right?"
DeSoto shook his head.
"Oh man," Gage said, resting his chin on an open palm, his elbows on his knees.
Meanwhile, the packrat was busy gathering anything he could find and taking it to his new home under the hood of the Land Rover. It would take him weeks to build a full nest, but he had a good start. The critter began to chew on some wiring in the engine. It was in the way and there was only one thing to do.
After a morning meal of sandwiches, the three men headed down to the water to try their hand at fishing again. As they sat waiting for a sign of a nibble on their lines, Johnny swatted at his arms occasionally.
“What’s your problem?’ Chet asked, noticing the slaps were becoming more frequent.
“Mosquitoes!” Gage got to his feet as he waved his arms around. “The only bites I’m getting are mosquito bites! Watch me end up with Malaria,” he added sarcastically.
“I thought you loved the outdoors,” Roy commented.
“I do! But not everything about the outdoors. I don’t like mosquitoes. I don’t like it when I sit for hours and no fish bite.”
Chet reeled in his line. “I’ve gotta agree with ‘im, Roy.”
Johnny frowned as he slapped at another mosquito. “How come you two aren’t getting attacked by these things?”
“Guess they just like ya, John,” Chet said, shrugging.
Roy grinned. “It because we put on that lotion you said smelled too much like a girl. Joanne said it keeps the mosquitoes away, and I guess she was right.” He reeled in his fishing line, as Johnny did the same.
“Well, it’s a high price for a guy to pay to be bug free, if you ask me. But can I put some on if we try this again?”
Johnny’s face suddenly brightened. “Hey, how ‘bout we go for a hike?”
“It doesn’t solve our sandwich problem,” Kelly reminded him.
“Ah heck, Chet. I’m givin’ up. It’s only one more day of ‘em after this,” Gage said. “I’ll get my camera out of the Rover and should be able to take some beautiful shots of the scenery. Heck, I might even win twenty-five dollars again.”
“Uh. . .I won twenty-five dollars, remember?” the curly haired fireman replied.
“Well, whatever. You know what I mean. My camera won. . .oh nevermind.”
The three friends gathered up their fishing gear and started for the cabin.
The packrat was busy putting his nest together when he heard and felt one of the Land Rover’s doors open. He stiffened and was perfectly still as he waited. The rat could hear human voices, but stayed in place underneath the hood. He’d run if anything disturbed his hiding place.
Soon the door was closed again and the humans were gone. After a short while, he went back to work on his nest.
“C’mon, Gage, time’s a
wastin’,” Chet commented as he watched Johnny in the cabin.
“Yeah, yeah…hang on a sec,” the paramedic answered. “I’m getting my camera loaded.”
Roy came out of the bathroom holding his stomach. As he entered the main livingroom area, the other two glanced at him.
“Whatsa’ matter?” Johnny asked, concerned.
“Nothing. I think I may have eaten one too many sandwiches this weekend is all.”
“You gonna be okay?”
“Sure.” DeSoto waved off his partner’s attention. “Let’s go.”
Once they were ready, Roy,
Johnny and Chet headed north on a trail leading from the cabin. The three were
so absorbed in the scenery around them, no one paid attention to anything else.
Forty-five minutes later, they were quite a distance from where they started.
“This is awesome!” Johnny exclaimed. “I’m getting some great shots!”
“Yeah, it’s great. I wonder if your friend would let me bring Joanne and the kids up here some day,” Roy commented to Chet. “Chris and Jenny would love it.”
“I can ask him, Roy. I’ll bet he wouldn’t mind.”
“Hey, I just felt a drop of water . . .did anyone else?” Johnny stopped walking and looked up at the sky. A few dark clouds had gathered and were starting to cover the sun. “Oh man! It’s gonna rain!”
“We’d better get back,” Roy said, looking up as well. “We must have gone at least two or three miles from the cab--”
Roy cut his sentence short as a sudden cloud burst let loose. “Run!”
The three men ran back in the direction of the cabin as quick as they could. Johnny shielded his camera as he ran ahead of Roy and Chet.
“Man. . .I can’t believe this!” Johnny yelled back over his shoulder.
“You had to suggest. . . a hike, huh, John?” Chet managed to say in motion.
Roy wiped the raindrops off his face. “Would you guys just . . . cut it out and save your . . . energy for running?”
“Yeah, Gage, save your---ahhhhhhhhh” Chet yelled as he tripped and slid in some mud on his belly.
Johnny stopped and turned around to see what had happened. When he saw Chet get up okay, he burst out laughing at the sight of the muddy Irishman. “You don’t get that dirty on duty!”
Now that they’d stopped moving, Roy felt his stomach start to cramp. He didn’t want to leave Chet and Johnny behind, but for the moment he had no choice.
As Roy took off running again, the other two stood gaping in the rain.
“He left us!” Chet said in disbelief. “I’d expect that from you, but. . .Roy. . .?”
Johnny scowled. “Nice. C’mon, let’s get outta this rain. Can you run?”
“Like this?” Chet asked, spreading his arms open to expose the wet muddy mess covering his entire front.
“Okay, okay. We’ll walk fast. Maybe some of the rain will wash that stuff off.”
Chet and Johnny both ignored the rain coming down on them as they made their way back. Their main concern was with Roy.
I hope I brought something in the first aid kit for a sour stomach, Johnny thought, guessing that was why their friend went ahead without them.
and Chet arrived back at the cabin just in time for the rain to stop.
"Figures," a very muddy Chet grumbled.
"Hey, at least we made it back before too long. Let’s get changed out of these wet clothes before we catch pneumonia.”
can’t happen this fast . . . can it?”
”Are you kidding?” Johnny wondered. “On this trip?”
Chet gave it a thought a few seconds. “You’re right. Let’s get changed NOW!”
The two men went inside and found an already dry Roy lying on the couch.
“Hey, did you get sick?” Gage asked.
The older man nodded. “I barely made it back in time.”
“Did you check the first aid kit in the Rover for something to take?”
“No, I haven’t moved since I laid down. You got anything in there that’ll work?”
“I’ll check. Let me get changed first.”
Roy gave a thumbs up and closed his eyes.
The packrat was on his way back to the Land Rover with more nesting material when he saw a tall, slim human near the truck. The critter hung back and stood still as a statue while he watched the man. When the coast was clear, he ran under the vehicle and climbed up under the hood.
Later in the afternoon, more rain came, keeping the three firemen stuck inside. Johnny had brought a deck of cards, and Roy was feeling better after taking a couple of tablets for his sour stomach, so they spent the free time playing poker using small change to place bets. The game lasted until the storm knocked out the power.
“Oh great!” Chet groaned. “Where’s a flashlight?”
“In the Land Rover,” came Gage’s answer.
They all looked up at the ceiling as they could hear the pouring rain hitting the roof.
“Well what’re ya waiting for?” Chet asked.
“Chet, you don’t expect me to go out in this stuff,” Gage said, his right hand splayed on his chest.
“Why not? You won’t melt. Besides, it’s your truck and your flashlight.”
Roy got up from his seat and went to one of the windows. “Just be careful. It looks like there’s a lot of rain pooling around your Land Rover.”
“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” Johnny asked sarcastically. “My shoes are already wet, so what does it matter?” He went over near the front door, took off his dry socks and slipped his bare feet into the wet shoes.
Chet was over near the wood burning stove checking the fire. “See ya when you get back.”
“Yeah. . .sure.” Johnny went out the door and took off in a run towards his truck, trying to stay as dry as possible.
Chet stepped away from the stove and walked over to Roy, who was still watching his partner out the window. Since the sky was darkened from it being a stormy evening, Johnny was mostly visible with the light provided by the occasional flashes of lightning in the sky.
“Did he slip on the wet ground yet?” Chet asked.
Roy nodded. “But he got back up.” He paused as Chet looked out beside him. “He’s got the door to the Rover open now.”
They watched their friend at work as his truck’s dome light was on.
“I hope he doesn’t get hit by lightning trying to get back here,” Chet said, not taking his eyes off Johnny. Roy turned his head and gave the fireman a glare. Feeling the look, Chet shrugged. “I’m not saying he will. It’s just a passing thought.”
Roy shook his head. “Don’t even think it. Not the way this trip has gone.”
Both men were ready to call it a weekend and return to the city, but not knowing how each man felt, neither wanted to be the one to wimp out. Each one wished Gage would come back in and suggest they all head for home. Chet and Roy saw the dome light go out when Johnny shut the door to the Land Rover. He splashed his way back to drier ground, then burst in the door, soaked.
“Man, I can’t believe how much it’s raining! I don’t even have any dry clothes now! Here. . .” he tossed the flashlight to Chet, who caught it. “You wanted to be able to see better. Turn it on and you can see how soaked I am.”
Johnny was about to suggest they all throw in the towel and leave, but he wasn’t sure the other two felt as discouraged as he did, so he kept his mouth shut. He didn’t want to be the one to wimp out. So much to all three men’s dismay, each thinking the other wanted to stick it out, they remained on the troublesome camping trip.
Johnny sat on the couch, a towel wrapped around his lower half, as it was the only thing dry for him to wear. It was his turn to sleep on the collapsible bed, but the paramedic had decided sleeping sitting up was a better option in a towel. He wasn’t likely to move around as much. He pulled a blanket up to cover his shoulders as a shiver ran through his scantly clad body. You aren’t doing your job very well, he thought, looking across the room at the wood burning stove.
Chet stared at the sleeping bag on the floor in the other room. It was Roy’s turn to sleep on the regular bed, so the curly haired fireman had to deal with another night of being close to the floor. No, not close, Chet thought. ON the floor. He sighed as he got down and slipped into the sleeping bag. If anything comes crawling at me during the night, I’m sleepin’ in Gage’s Rover. I don’t
care if I’ve gotta swim to it!
= = = =
Roy lay in the bed wondering if the growing knot in his stomach was going to be something coming up in the night. He planned out the quickest route to the bathroom in case, which involved leaping over Chet’s sleeping form. Kelly would never forgive him if he didn’t make it in time. I just hope the feeling goes away. . .
Morning arrived and the three men looked as miserable as they felt. Johnny had a scratchy feeling in the back of his throat that told him he was probably going to be losing his voice soon, or at least sounding like a frog somewhat. Sleeping in a sitting position all night hadn’t helped his other end. As he stood, holding onto the towel, he could barley feel his bottom. It was numb from the poorly padded, lumpy couch.
Chet could feel every muscle in his body ache from sleeping on the floor. The sleeping bag hadn’t been near enough padding for him. How did Roy do it? He slowly got to his feet and made his way into the main room. Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, the fireman was slightly hunched over as he looked for a drink to wet his parched throat.
Roy came out of the bathroom, his face as white as a sheet. The senior paramedic had made it through the night without getting sick, but finally lost the battle with his stomach when the sun came up.
Gathered in the livingroom, the friends looked at one another. Johnny was the first to speak.
“We aren’t gonna be alive if we stay up here another day.”
Roy and Chet’s faces brightened.
“You mean, you think we should leave?” Chet asked.
“Well, we don’t have to, but--”
“Don’t say it!” Kelly interrupted. “Roy’s sick, John, look at ‘im.” There, that would place the blame on someone else. Chet continued, despite a look of surprise from Roy. “We gotta call it a weekend, for him at least.”
Johnny looked at his partner, then Chet, who was still trying to straighten up. He thought about his own oncoming problem as well. And his still numb butt. The dark-haired man sighed.
“You think you can make it in the truck okay, Roy? I mean, will riding make you feel worse?”
DeSoto shook his head. “I’ll be okay. It’s mind over matter. I can do it.”
“Okay, then, let’s do it,” Johnny said. He stepped over near the stove where his clothes had been placed to dry. They were damp in spots, but not bad. It was time to hit the road.
Once the men were all packed and the cabin was back how they found it, the fire in the wood burning stove out, the three made their way through the still wet grass and mud to the Land Rover. Roy had psyched himself up for the long ride and was sure if they just made a straight beeline home, he’d be fine.
Johnny got in the driver’s side, Roy beside him and Chet in the rear. Gage turned the key in the ignition and frowned when nothing happened. “What the. . .?”
“What is it?” Roy and Chet asked in unison.
“The engine won’t start. I don’t believe this! What next?” Johnny got out of the vehicle, the other two following suit. The younger paramedic lifted the hood and the three men stood in shock, their mouths open.
The pack rat was snuggled in his partially built nest under the hood of the Land Rover when suddenly the cover was lifted. The rodent lifted his head and looked in surprised shock at the three dumbfounded humans looking in at him. Not sure what to do, the critter froze in place, hoping to go unnoticed. When he saw the eyes of the tallest and thinnest man widen, he sensed it was time to abandon his home and run like hell. He didn’t even see the three men jump back in surprise when the furry pack rat took off from his nest.
Johnny was the first to step back near the engine and peer in at the mess that was there. “Oh man! I . . .Oh man!”
“Look at that!” Chet said, now leaning in closer to view the damage.
Johnny lifted a chewed end of a wire, then another. “Oh man! I. . .I don’t believe this!” he said as his voice cracked from the soreness of his throat. He then looked in the direction the pack rat had gone. “You better still be running, ‘cause when I get my hands on you. . .!”
“Whata’ we do now?” Chet asked.
“Walk,” Gage said shrugging. “I can’t fix this.” He shook his head. “I can’t fix this. That little--”
Before Johnny could get the word out, Roy was over near a bush, heaving up what little there was in his stomach.
“So much for mind over matter,” Chet remarked dryly.
Johnny put his hands over his eyes and leaned his elbows on the front of the Land Rover.
Wearing backpacks with needed supplies, Johnny and Chet walked along the make-shift road that lead from the cabin to the main highway. Each man was wishing he could have the honor of wringing the pack rat’s neck, but Gage had a feeling the animal would have more to contend with if it showed up while Roy was anywhere in view. The older paramedic was uncharacteristically cranky when Johnny and Chet had left him at the cabin.
“You think Roy’ll be okay?” Chet asked, glad to be standing with his back straight again.
“Yeah, sure. He was right, you know,” a somewhat hoarse Gage replied. “He was in no shape to walk as many miles as we’re gonna have to. . .which is at least eight just to get to the main road.” Johnny heard Chet cough a little at the reminder of how far he’d lead Gage and DeSoto when they were supposed to be just a few miles from the highway. The dark-haired paramedic continued. “This way he’s got everything he needs. . .shelter, a bed, some food. . .if he feels up to eating, the wood burning stove and wa- -ah- -oh no.” Gage got an alarmed look on his face.
“The power’s still out. There’s no way to get water out of the faucets in the cabin.” Johnny paused a moment as the thought sank in farther. “We left Roy without any water . . .” His voice faded on the last word.
Chet turned and looked in the direction they’d just come from. The two men had already walked four miles and there was nothing in sight but a few trees, bushes, weeds and grass.
“I’m not going back.”
“We don’t have to. Roy. . .uh. . . Roy’ll figure it out soon enough. He can make it to the spot we were fishing at and get water. He’ll be okay.”
The curly haired fireman shook his head. “Joanne’s gonna kill us.”
“Yeah, it won’t be a warm welcome next time we see her, that’s for sure.”
“Speaking of water, can you hand me the canteen? I’m ready for a drink.”
Johnny stopped walking and stood staring at Kelly, who had now also stopped.
“Chet, you have the canteen.”
“No I don’t.”
“Yes, you do. When we were packing stuff for our ‘trip’ to find help, you said you would keep it in your pack after you filled it with the water that was left in the refrigerator.”
“Yes, you did.” Gage eyed the fireman, not liking the expression he was seeing. “Chet. . .”
“Well, I guess I forgot.”
“Yeah. I . . .you know. . .we were all busy and I guess I was thinkin’ you said you’d get the water.”
“Chet!” Johnny’s voice cracked sharply, making Chet’s name come out as more of a squeak than a word. He cleared his throat. “You don’t have to worry about Joanne.”
“Of course not. Roy’s well taken care of. He’s got everything, apparently including the water, that he needs.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
A blank stare from Kelly had Gage sighing. “Me, Chet. You can start worrying about me. Right now, you’re next in line after the pack rat,” Johnny said as his voice cracked again.
Kelly frowned and started walking towards the highway again. “A guy makes one mistake in his life. . .”
Johnny rolled his eyes and followed behind, wondering if they’d be so lucky as to meet up with a car on the main road.
Roy sat on the old lumpy couch, his head resting against the back. His eyes closed, he tried to will away the nauseated feeling that now had become a continuous thing. He thought about his wife and kids who were probably having a great weekend doing stuff together.
I should’ve stayed home. Home. . .hey!
Roy suddenly sat straight up, fortunate to be rewarded only with a dizzy spell and not completely losing the contents of his stomach.
Joanne’ll come looking for us when I don’t show up tomorrow. Only problem is, he remembered, she doesn’t know exactly where we are. . .
The paramedic leaned back and rested his head on the back of the couch again. Damn. After a few minutes, he opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling, noting a large semi-dry water stain.
Funny. . .I don’t think that was there the other day. . .
It then dawned on him what it meant. The roof had developed a leak sometime during or after the storm the night before; thankfully not bad enough to let the water drip all the way through . . .
. . .yet. . . Roy thought.
Suddenly he was up and on his way to the bathroom as he felt another bout of vomiting come on. Afterwards, Roy pushed down on the handle of the toilet, relieved to be rid of what little he had thrown up. He was also glad he couldn’t eat much to begin with. It sure cut down on how much came back up. What he didn’t realize is that with no power to run the well pump, he was on limited flushes. After another flush or two, there wouldn’t be enough water in the tank to work the toilet.
Johnny called out to Chet who was a few steps ahead of him. But much to the paramedic’s dismay, his voice was nothing but a quiet whisper now. Not hearing a sound, Chet continued on.
Gage trotted to catch up to the Irishman. He then grabbed a hold of Kelly’s arm, stopping him.
“I need water,” Johnny said as loud as he could.
“What? Johnny, you’re gonna have to speak up. I can’t lip read very well.”
Gage cleared his throat a few times. When he thought his voice might be clearer, he repeated, “I need water.” He smiled as his voice was a whisper, but a whisper that could be heard. “A guy can go without food if he has to. But water. . .gotta have water.”
“You wanna go all the way back to the cabin?” Chet asked in disbelief.
Johnny shook his head. “Find a stream,” he squeaked out. “That way.” He pointed to the left, towards a wooded area.
Chet studied where his friend was pointing. There had to be a stream or creek there somewhere, as the water they fished in had to flow down through the hills. The only question was, how far would they have to go? Here they were just a couple of miles from the main road. Maybe Gage wasn’t thinking clearly.
“Johnny, we’re almost to the road and we’ll probably get a ride. If we go looking for water, it’ll delay getting help. Think about Roy.”
The paramedic shook his head. “Think about it,” he said, his voice once again a whisper. “When we came up here, how many cars did we pass on the road? How many cars did we see on the road period?”
“Right. And today is Monday, so anyone that WAS up this way, probably left yesterday. So what does that tell you?”
Chet had to lip read the last two words after all as Johnny’s voice faded out. “We’re gonna need to find some water.”
Johnny nodded. “Exactly,” he mouthed. He waved for Chet to follow as he turned to go towards the trees.
“But we don’t have anything to put it in.”
“Sure we do,” Gage said as his voice returned, sounding like a raspy whisper. He stopped, took off his backpack and pulled out a sandwich. He took the food out of the small plastic bag it was in and took a bite. Holding up the clear bag, and with sandwich still in his mouth, he said, “In these.”
Chet rolled his eyes. “If you say so.”
Johnny lifted his pack onto his back and the men went on their way.
“Hey, Gage. . .I’ve been thinkin’. . .”
Johnny listened as Chet continued.
“Won’t Joanne miss Roy tomorrow when he doesn’t come home?”
Johnny stopped and nodded. The Irishman had a point.
“And when she does, won’t she send someone up here or come looking for him?”
“Does Joanne know whose cabin we went to?”
“I. . .I don’ know.”
“Can she get a hold of your friend Dale if she needs to?”
“He went on a cruise.”
“If Roy had told her the general area, would she be able to find it eight miles off the road?”
“Uh. . .not likely?”
Barely able to talk again after the brief conversation, Johnny waved for Chet to follow.
“Okay, maybe I’ve made two mistakes in my life,” Kelly said, catching up. “Forgetting the water and planning our long weekend up here.”
Gage glanced at his friend and shook his head. “We ALL planned it, Chet,” he squeaked out. “It’s not your fault. But that packrat on the other hand. . .he's a marked rodent.”
Roy walked out to the Land Rover and surveyed the damage done by the packrat. He had never seen a nest in an engine before this happened and if he wasn’t looking at it now, would still find it hard to believe.
“Those things work fast, that’s all I can say,” he mumbled to himself. A movement out of the corner of his right eye caught his attention. It was the culprit returning to the scene of the ‘crime’. Roy slowly turned to face the critter, hoping it would stay in place. So far the rat hadn’t moved.
The paramedic carefully lifted one foot off the ground in slow motion, and moved it slightly forward before placing it down again. He repeated the same motion alternating feet until he was close enough to the rat to stare into its dark beady eyes.
“You had to have seen me moving,” Roy said quietly. “How come you’re still here?” What’s he got up his sleeve? He wondered. Now I sound just like Johnny. It’s a rat for crying out loud.
The packrat stared up at the tall human. The man didn’t look threatening, so there was no need to run for cover yet. He sat still while the human inched closer and rambled off in some unintelligent language the rodent didn’t understand. He stared up at the human’s blue eyes, wondering what the man was planning.
Roy started to step around the rat, hoping to scare it towards the cabin. There he could corner it if he was lucky. But the rodent followed his movement and circled around as well. Neither took his eyes off the other. Finally Roy decided surprise was the best method to catch the animal and he lunged forward. The rat caught on and made a quick get away between Roy’s ankles just as the paramedic’s feet left the ground. Unable to stop himself in mid-momentum, Roy landed on his stomach on empty ground. His upset stomach. He rolled over on his side and heaved as he watched a very relieved packrat scamper away into the brush.
I suppose I can’t blame this one on him. . . He slowly got to his feet and looked up at the changing sky. Dark clouds were once again building up. More rain? Well, as Johnny would say. . .ah man!
“Ow!” Chet shouted when a couple of twigs snapped and hit his arm as he and Johnny traveled through some thick brush. “Watch when you let go of those things!”
“The branches on the bushes. Either that or let me lead.”
Johnny looked down at his own scratched arms, then glanced back at Kelly’s. “I don’t think being in the lead is gonna make much difference,” he rasped.
“You know, with everything we’ve been through this weekend, it couldn’t possibly get any worse,” Chet commented as they worked their way towards a clearing.
“I just wish we’d find water.” Gage’s throat was so sore it felt like it was on fire. He couldn’t remember it ever hurting quite so bad in his life.
Both men noticed it had gradually gotten less sunny out as they walked along. At first they were grateful. But now, as both looked up at the dark clouds forming in the sky, their opinions changed.
“You had to say it couldn’t get any worse,” Johnny managed to get out.
“Hey, you wished we’d find water. Haven’t you heard the saying, ‘be careful what you wish for or you may get it’?” Chet stared up at the sky. “I’d say you’re gonna get it.”
Roy came out of the bathroom after another round of dry heaves. The firm landing on his stomach from the missed tackle on the packrat had his gut in an uproar.
The blond paramedic could hear the rain now hitting on the roof and windows of the cabin as it poured down outside.
I hope Johnny and Chet got a ride somewhere.
He eased himself down onto the couch once again, and leaned his head back. It wasn’t long before he felt a drop of water, then another land on his face. Roy opened one eye, and peered up at the ceiling. His other eye quickly opened when he saw rain leaking through.
“Oh no ya don’t. You’re not ruining the best seat in the house.”
DeSoto got up off the couch and began to pull it away from the wall and into the center of the room, away from the dripping water. He then walked behind it to place a metal bucket where the drops were leaking through. Roy stopped in shock at what he saw.
“A phone? A phone? Who in the hell puts a telephone underneath a couch?” He stood unmoving as he processed the discovery in his mind. “Chet’s friend, that’s who,” he answered himself. "Why doesn’t that surprise me?”
Roy quickly stepped over and bent down to pick up the receiver. He could see the telephone was plugged into the phone jack in the wall, but knew there was no guarantee it would work. After all, Dale hadn’t been up here in a long time. Why would he keep a phone working? But them again, he was Chet’s friend and anything was possible. Roy smiled when he heard the dial tone.
“All right! I can call for help!” Roy dialed his home and hoped Joanne would be there.
Chet couldn’t wait till the weekend was over and they were home again. He and Johnny were huddled in some trees while it rained, but they were still getting wet as rain drops filtered through the branches. So far they hadn’t seen any lightning, so the two men were relatively sure their shelter would be okay until the weather cleared.
Gage sat on the ground leaning against his back pack, his eyes closed. Now that he had stopped to rest, he was feeling the effects of whatever virus he had. The paramedic was fairly certain a lot of the soreness was due to dryness.
“You okay?” Chet asked as he watched his travel companion.
Johnny nodded. “Yeah. Just wish I had a gun.”
Chet’s expression changed to one of surprise. The dark-haired paramedic saw the change and grinned.
“Just kidding, Chet. I hate guns. But it’s a thought whenever I picture that packrat staring up at us from my engine,” he rasped.
“Yeah. Wonder where he is now?”
“Probably back in his nest. I wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t figured out a way to close the hood.”
“You’re really givin’ him too much credit.”
“Maybe,” Johnny squeaked. “But it wouldn’t surprise me.”
Roy was ecstatic. He’d gotten a hold of Joanne and she was on her way to pick him up. It would be a couple of hours, but he didn’t care. The bad times were almost over. He had made sure to tell Joanne to drive extra careful in the rain. But after she promised to, he felt better about asking her to come up.
The paramedic gathered his belongings together and paced around the main room as he waited for his wife.
“Are you sure we did the right thing by leaving Johnny’s Land Rover there by itself?” Joanne wondered as she glanced at her husband in the passenger seat. “I know it would cost a lot to have it towed to the nearest town, but what else can he do?”
“He might have someone come up and repair it. It’s really up to him to decide. But it’s not like anyone could steal it by driving it away.” Roy looked ahead at the muddy road. They hadn’t made it to the main highway yet, and already he was feeling guilty for getting a ride home without his friends knowing. “You sure you didn’t pass them anywhere on your way up here?”
Joanne nodded. “Yes, I’m sure. I didn’t pass any people or cars for miles.”
Roy looked out the passenger window as he chewed his lower lip in thought.
Maybe they got a ride before very long. And it’s been hours since they headed out.
He rubbed his still achy stomach, hoping nothing more would come of it.
Suddenly Roy’s thoughts were interrupted by Joanne’s voice. “Roy! Look!”
The blond paramedic quickly peered out the windshield towards the driver’s side. Although it was getting dark out as late evening neared, Roy could still make out that it was Johnny and Chet walking towards the road.
“This is all the farther they got?” Roy aksed.
“The poor guys look like two drowned rats,” Joanne commented. When Roy gave her a look that said ‘I don’t believe you said that’, she recalled what he had showed her in the Land Rover’s engine and what lead them to this point to begin with. “Sorry.” She stopped the station wagon.
Johnny was just about to give up on leaving the area, when he saw a car heading down the road from the cabin. He nudged Chet, who was looking at the ground.
“Look! A car, a car!” he whispered loudly. “It looks like Roy and Joanne’s station wagon. . .”
“How can that be?”
“I don’ know. But it has to be theirs. C’mon.”
The two men hurried to meet the car that had stopped in the road, ignoring the bush branches that were scraping and snapping against their skin.
Once everyone was situated, Chet and Johnny in the back seat wrapped in blankets; their backpacks in the rear of the car, Joanne started driving again.
“I can’t believe you found a phone,” Johnny said.
Roy shook his head. “I can’t believe you guys hung around here. And you sound terrible. You’re gonna end up at Rampart, you know.”
Gage nodded. “I figured Joanne could just drop me off there.” He grinned and patted Roy’s wife on the shoulder. “Did I ever tell you what a lucky guy I think Roy is? I always tell ‘im, there’s nothing that’s better than a good wife.”
“Oh you do, huh?” Joanne asked, not sure she could believe the man.
“Me, too,” Chet chimed in.
Roy thought back to the conversation they’d had on the way up. The guys had been putting women down. But considering Joanne might be tempted to drop them off too soon if she knew that, he figured Johnny and Chet were better off getting away with their little charade. They were probably being sincere in their own way now.
Suddenly Johnny managed to get one loud “Stop!” out.
Joanne hit the breaks, sliding the car slightly in the mud. “What is it?”
Roy and Chet were baffled as well.
Johnny opened the car door and got out, slipping a little as he made his way to the stretch of road in front of the car. It was then the others saw what he had. The packrat was in the middle of the road in the headlight beams. Johnny was standing close to him and the two were having a stare out.
First Gage’s eyes narrowed, then it appeared the packrat’s eyes narrowed.
“How’d that rat get here?” Kelly wondered.
“Knowing him, he probably held on underneath our car,” Roy replied wryly.
“That animal is something else,” Chet said, still watching. “Too bad he doesn’t know Gage is gonna kill ‘im.”
But to everyone’s surprise, Johnny got back in the car after making sure the packrat was safely off the road.
“What’dya do that for?” Chet asked. “I thought you hated the little guy.”
“I do, Chet. But I got to thinkin’. As bad as it’s been up here, this place is punishment enough,” the paramedic explained as his voice faded in and out. “Once I get my Rover outta here, the little guy is gonna be on his own again. That’s enough revenge for me.”
“But he’s an animal,” Roy reminded. “It’s not gonna bother him. He’s used to it.”
Luckily Johnny’s voice was now completely gone so no one could hear the next words that came out of his mouth as Joanne drove on towards the main highway and civilization.
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