“What about here?”
Ross glances around the clearing. It's probably a little small for three tents, but there should be just enough space for them and a campfire. “Looks good to me.” Honestly, he’s tired and hot and sweaty enough after hiking along ten miles of rocky, hilly cliffside that he’d probably agree to setting up camp in a bog. “Smith?”
Smithy glances around, then gives a nod. “Yeah, it’ll do. Ground looks level enough, and we’re far enough away from the cliffside.”
“Thank Christ,” Ross says with feeling, unstrapping his backpack and letting it drop. “Oh, that feels good.” He stretches, groaning appreciatively at the sensation of lightness that comes with shedding a twenty pound bag.
“What’s the matter, can’t handle a little light hiking, Ross?” Smithy says offhandedly, but Ross notices he’s equally quick to take off his own bag and stretch.
“I wouldn’t call today’s journey a ‘light’ hike,” Ross says. “Besides, my bag’s the heaviest.”
“And whose fault is that? Learn to pack lighter.”
“Guys,” Trott interrupts wearily, “How about we stop measuring our dicks and start setting up camp before it gets dark and we get eaten?”
“Eaten by what?” Smith asks derisively, “It’s the English countryside. Most deadly thing around is probably a loose cow.”
“What if I don’t want to put my dick away,” Ross mutters. “Who doesn’t love a good dick measuring competition?”
“Fine. You guys get your dicks out if you want, but I’m setting up my tent, and I’m warning you, I’m not letting either of you in if it gets dark and you haven’t got your own tent up.” Trott kneels down, and starts pulling things out of his backpack.
Ross and Smith exchange a glance.
“Probably should start getting the tents up,” Smithy mutters, scuffing a foot in the dirt.
“Great! I’ve got a lot of experience pitching tents,” Ross says brightly.
“Oh I bet you do,” Trott mumbles, from behind them.
“You could say I’m an expert erector.”
Smith snorts, getting out his own tent. “Really? I’ve heard you have trouble getting it up.”
“I can get it up in five minutes.”
“Yeah? Does it stay up?”
“Oh yeah. For days.”
“You two might want to get a move on. I’ve already got mine half-up.”
Ross glances around at Trott’s pitch. “Shit! You really have.”
“Trott’s got a semi,” Smithy says, sing-song, busy spreading out his groundsheet.
Trott smiles, busy attaching his flysheet. “It’s true, I have.”
“And he’s not just talking about the tent!” Ross frowns down distractedly at his own tent, or rather the components that will hopefully soon become his tent. “Shit.”
“What’s the matter, Hornby, having some trouble?” Smith jeers, busy threading together a tent pole.
“Maybe,” Ross admits, sitting back on his heels. “I’m not sure where to start. It’s been awhile since I’ve been camping.”
“I’ll give you a hand once I’ve got mine up.” Smith pauses, wrinkling his nose. “That sounded kind of wrong.”
“But somehow, also so right.” Ross gives up on his tent for a minute and turns around to watch how the others are getting on. Trott looks like he’s actually finished, and Smithy’s tent is starting to look less like a deflated balloon and more like an actual shelter.
“Shit,” Trott says. “Did anyone pack a mallet?”
“Yes,” Ross and Smith say in chorus.
“Both of you packed a mallet,” Trott says flatly. “Well done, that’s excellent planning.”
“For fuck’s - Ross, I told you I’d bring the mallet!”
“No wonder your bag weighs so much, what other useless shit did you pack?”
“It’s not useless,” Ross protests, rooting through his backpack. “Trott’s going to use it.”
“Yes, but he could have used the one I told you that I was going to pack.”
“Guys, it doesn’t matter. Just one of you pass me a mallet.”
Ross hands the mallet over to Trott, who takes it and crouches down to carefully and methodically hammer in the tent pegs.
“You know, we probably don’t need to bother with tent pegs,” Smith says, walking over. “This clearing is pretty sheltered.”
“Probably,” Trott agrees, shaking his hair out of his eyes, “But I’d rather be safe. Don’t want my tent blowing away.”
“Fair enough. I’m finished with my tent, Ross, if you want a hand.”
“Not going to peg your tent down?” Trott asks.
Smith shrugs, “Nah. Can’t be bothered.”
“Can’t be bothered with pegging? There’s a first,” Trott says drily. Smith nudges him in the back with a foot, nearly knocking him into the tent.
“Come on, Ross, let’s get you erect.”
“Can’t wait,” Ross says, following him over.
By the time all the tents are up and they’ve set up a firepit, the sun has started to sink below the treeline. The light is a warm, mellow gold, that spills over the clearing, lending a warm to the chill evening air.
“Fuck,” Smith says, swatting at a gnat that’s landed on his arm. “You were right, Trott, we’re gonna get eaten alive.”
“Maybe you two will, but I packed bugspray.”
“Wow, you really packed everything, didn’t you?” Trott says, carefully placing the sticks they’d collected for the campfire over the tinder blocks.
“I did, and I’ll even let you use some if you ask me nicely.”
“Please,” Trott says, batting his eyelids.
“Very nice - bit flirty, I like it.” Ross finishes spraying himself then tosses the can to Trott who fumbles the catch.
“Good idea guys, play with solvents near the campfire.”
“We haven’t lit it yet, Smith,” Trott says mildly, spraying himself.
“Yeah, but you’ve just sprayed yourself all over with it, and now you’re about to use a lighter.”
“I’m not going to catch fire.”
“Let me light it, I’m the only one who hasn’t sprayed myself yet.”
“Bullshit, you just want to be the one to light the fire,” Trott says, but he hands the lighter over and scoots back from the fire a bit.
Smith smirks a little. “Maybe.”
“Let him, Trott. He needs it to feel like a man.” Ross sits down on a patch of grass next to Trott.
“I’m more of a man than either of you’ll ever be,” Smith retorts, brow furrowed with concentration as he lights the tinder block.”
“Well I’m more of a man than you’ll ever have,” Trott quips, leaning back on his elbows and lazily watching as Smith bends forward to blow on the flame.
“Blow harder,” Ross catcalls.
They both snicker as Smith pauses to give them the finger.
“There,” Smith sits back, watching as the fire slowly starts to build, flames licking hungrily over the rapidly charring wood.
“Good job,” Trott comments. “Now which one of you packed the food?”
“I did,” Smith says, standing up and brushing the dirt off his knees. “Hope you boys are in the mood for hot dogs.”
“Who doesn’t love hot dogs?” Ross says. “Actually, I’m famished enough I could probably eat a real dog.”
“I mean, who knows what’s in a hot dog. There’s probably a bit of real dog in there somewhere.” Trott scoots closer to the fire, and starts prodding it with a stick.
“Fuck are you doing messing with the fire?” Smith says, returning from his tent and dropping two tins of hot dogs on the ground.
“I’m tending it, Smith. Making sure it doesn’t go out.”
“How about you cook the hot dogs instead, since I lit the fire.”
“The fire that I built,” Trott points.
“Yeah, but I lit it.”
“Because I let you.”
“That’s true, he did let you,” Ross interjects.
Smith wrinkles his nose, then gives Trott one of his disarming smiles. “Please?”
Trott can’t help but smile back. “Fine. But you’re doing the cooking tomorrow.” He grabs a can,
“That’s fair,” Smith says, taking Trott’s spot next to Ross. “You’re the cooking wench for tonight, though.”
“That’s not very wench-like of you, Trott.”
“No, fuck you for not bringing a ring-pull can.”
“Oh, shit. Do you need a can-opener? Because Ross probably packed one.”
“It’s fine. I’ll use my pocket-knife.”
“I bet you’ve been dying for an opportunity to use that thing.”
“He has,” Ross agrees, “Gagging for it.”
“Hah! Got it.” Trott quickly saws round the lid of the can, then drains the water.
“Aw, Trott, you’re tipping away the best part. I could have drank that.”
“Ew,” Trott says delicately, skewering a hot dog on a stick and holding it over the fire.
“Speaking of drinks, who brought the alcohol?” Smith asks.
“I brought a couple of bottles of whiskey,” Ross says.
“Did you bring anything to mix it with?” Trott asks.
“Let’s get fucked up then, boys,” Smith says cheerily, clapping Ross on the shoulder.
A couple of hours, two cans of hot dogs, and half a bottle of straight whiskey later, the sun’s fully set and beyond the circle of light cast by the campfire there’s only darkness and the cold, distant light of the moon.
“Fuck,” Ross says weakly. His head’s spinning. It turns out two cans of hot dogs divided by three grown men isn’t the most filling of dinners, but he’s warm from the fire and the whiskey, and the ache of his feet and back have dulled to an almost unnoticeable level. Right now, sat by a fire with his two best friends, he feels pretty content.
“Nice,” Trott says dozily, eyes half-shut as he stares into the fire.
“Anyone want any more whiskey?” Smith asks, holding the bottle out.
Ross grimaces. “I’ll pass.”
“I’ll also pass.”
“Pussies,” Smith laughs, tossing back another gulp. “Fuck! That burns.”
“Who’s the pussy now?”
“Still you, Trott. I need a piss.” Smith stands.
“Don’t get eaten,” Trott teases.
“By what, badgers?”
“You never know,” Ross says, seriously. “They might be rabid.”
Trott snorts. “Is that why we’re always culling them? Rabies?”
While they banter, Smith walks off, a little ways into the wood. Once he’s out of range of the campfire, he realises just how dark it’s gotten. It’s even darker under the trees, where the light from the moon and stars struggle to filter through the canopy. He also realises quickly that he’s more drunk than he thought, stumbling a little in the dark and over tree roots. “Shit,” he mutters, reaching his pockets for his phone only to realise he must have left it in his jacket back in the tent. He gives it up, and makes do, fumbling with his zipper. He’s close enough to the campsite that he can hear the low rumble of Ross and Trott talking. He finishes peeing, and zips back up. As he starts to walk away he hears a branch snap, somewhere in the wood ahead, not far from where he’s stood. He freezes for a second, heart speeding up. “Hello?”
Nothing responds, but he hears rustling, like something walking through long grass. He swallows, wishing he had his phone on him for light. The skin on his bare arms prickles in goosebumps that he tries to pretend are just from the cold. The rustling stops, after a moment, and Smith makes his way back to the fire, trying not to feel paranoid about turning his back on the woods.
“You were gone a while,” Trott says, glancing up as he rejoins them by the fire. “Did you get lost between here and the trees?”
“No, but I forgot my phone.” Smith decides then and there not to mention the noises to the others. By the light of the fire, the fear and the darkness feels distant, and there’s no point giving them free ammunition to tease him with.
“This was a pretty good idea,” Ross says.
“Thanks,” Trott says, smugly.
“Was it your idea?” Smith wonders.
“Getting out of the city,” Ross continues, ignoring them. “Back to nature. Back to basics. Whoever’s idea it was, it was a good one.”
“It was definitely my idea,” Trott mutters.
“Was it though?” Smith questions, sweetly.
“Yes.” Trott says firmly. “But Ross is right. It doesn’t matter whose idea it was, it was a good one. We could definitely use a break.” He yawns. “And I could do with some sleep.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” Ross agrees, “Let’s put out the fire.”
“I’ll grab a torch,” Smith says, quickly, not liking the idea of being stuck without a light again.