Duck Newton sat up, his eyes wide. “Something terrible’s gonna happen,” he whispered. He looked out the window of the break lodge, but couldn’t see any of the campers. Ominous. He couldn’t hear Barry screaming, because tag with Magnus is like being chased by a bloodhound. In fact, there was a lack of screaming in general. Doubly ominous.
He looked at Davenport, the gnome who was in charge of the overall kid-watching. He was sound asleep, which was unsurprising considering that there were twelve kids that he was responsible for basically 24/7.
Duck stood, yawning. What are the campers supposed to be doing right now? Of course, he thought with a wry smile, what they’re supposed to be doing has little to do with what they’re actually up to. The troubled nature counselor walked over to the schedule that Lucretia had printed out for the staff lodge. He scanned the paper until he found today’s date.
“Nature With Merle,” Duck read aloud. “ Dammit.”
Nature with Merle was not at all like Nature with Duck Newton. When Duck Newton did nature stuff, he taught the campers things like survival skills, using trees to figure out if it’s going to rain, and forest safety.
Merle had a different approach to nature than the forest ranger did. He was more relaxed in all his activities than Duck. Of course, when referring to Merle’s teaching style, relaxed meant that several hours after the end of an activity, someone found Magnus in a cave, wrestling with a grizzly bear. Relaxed meant that Aubrey and Lup could walk off and start some terrible project that involved fire outside of a designated pit. Relaxed meant that Brian found a huge fuck-you spider, adopted it, christened it Spider Bryan, and then disappeared into the forest that surrounded Camp Faerun.
After that particular incident, Duck had confronted Merle about his “relaxed” counselor style.
“Listen,” Duck had said. “I wasn’t real excited about Magnus wrestling that bear, and I was even less a fan of Aubrey and Lup starting’ a fire, but now Brian fuckin’ left the camp, which is a whole other issue. You fucking lost a camper. ”
Merle had looked bored. “Nah.”
“I didn’t lose Brian.”
“Well then what the fuck do you call what happened to Brian?”
“I didn’t lose him, per say. He ran away with his big spider friend, and I just happened to be around at the time. He’s not a cell phone that I put down, and can no longer recall the location of.”
“But he went missing! He is no longer at the camp! And we have NO FUCKING CLUE WHERE HE IS!” Duck Newton had yelled, massaging his temples in exasperation.
The conversation had ended there, but a week later Jake Coolice told Mama that Isaac called to say that Brian was across the lake at Camp Villa.
Despite the outcome of Brian not being dead somewhere in the woods, when Duck Newton saw that Nature with Merle was the scheduled activity, it basically confirmed his suspicions; something terrible was about to happen.
Duck Newton was torn. On the one hand, he wanted to prevent whatever horrible crisis that was undoubtedly about to unfold. On the other hand, he was on break, and there were plenty of other staff members that could, in theory, deal with this. They won’t, but he could pretend, right?
After a brief internal struggle, Duck’s desire to prevent a forest fire outweighed his desire to vegetate inside the staff lodge, so he put on his hat, grabbed a CB, and left, being careful not to slam the door so as not to wake Davenport up.
Once outside, he turned the CB to channel 1, the channel that all staff were supposed to be tuned in to. “Break-01 to nature,” he said into the CB. He waited for 30 seconds of no response before trying again. “Break-01 to nature.”
After a few more seconds, he heard a crackle. He could hear nothing but static crackling for a few moments on the other end before actual words came through.
“ Hi, welcome to Chili’s ,” came Taako’s voice before he dissolved into hysterical laughter.
Duck snorted in spite of himself. He turned his CB back on. “Break-01 to nature,” he repeated.
“ This is nature, go ahead ,” Lucretia said through the CB.
“Hey, this is Duck. What’s your location?”
“ We just finished our hike to Goldcliff Falls, and are currently resting at the top. ”
“Is Merle with you at the moment?” Duck hopped into the Green Machine, and began driving to Goldcliff Falls. There was a moment’s silence, and Duck repeated his question.
“ Yeah, sorry about that, Merle’s… uh... indisposed at the moment. ”
Duck’s brows furrowed. “What does that mean?”
“ It means that Merle is being a dirty weirdo !” Lup said into the CB.
“ Yeah!” Aubrey put in. “ He’s fucking a plant!”
“What?” Duck asked, bewildered. “Also language,” he reprimanded without thinking. He heard a chorus of cursing on the other end of the CB and sighed defeatedly.
“ I’m sorry, they wrestled the CB away from me, but they were actually telling the truth,” Lucretia said. “ We have moved away from Merle, because he is being inappropriate with the honeysuckle.”
Duck massaged one of his temples with his free hand. “Alright, I-” He sighed. “I guess, just, stay where you are, I’m gonna meet you there. Duck Newton out.”
“ Okay, will do. Nature out. ”
Duck took a deep breath. As he drove down the road, he stared hard at the tree line. Where is it? He wondered. As he searched, a small dark green flag tied to a bush with “R&R” written in silver sharpie marker caught his eye. There it is.
He stopped the Green Machine, and turned the camp car towards the flag. He drove into the forest, getting a mouthful of leaves in the process. “Gross,” he muttered, spitting out a twig.
Seconds later, the ground became slightly less bumpy, and the camp car broke through to the illegal race track. Another counselor, Sloane had built it, and Lieutenant Hurley had secretly helped her cut through the trees.
Duck didn’t like it, but he had turned a blind eye to it. Luckily for him, the track came out right at Goldcliff Falls, so unsafe as the race track might be, it was convenient at the moment.
He got another mouthful of leaves, but then he was out of the woods, zooming towards the edge of the cliff. Duck slammed on the brakes, and the camp car screeched to a halt. He hopped out and walked over to the group of campers standing nearby.
Lucretia looked up. "Hello, Duck," she said. "Thanks for coming here to help me out." Lucretia paused. "Hold on, aren't you on Me Time right now?"
Duck nodded. "Yeah I am, but you aren't legally allowed to be left alone with campers, so I figured that I should pick up the kids."
Lup looked at Duck. "It's also illegal for you to be spending time with campers while you're on Me Time because of working laws and shit, but go off I guess."
Duck sighed while simultaneously stifling a snort. "Listen. I'd rather get in trouble with Mama and Council because I was making sure that an adult was present than have the camp dealing with a lawsuit for neglect. "
Magnus tapped Duck's head and Duck looked up at him. "So, what're we gonna do next?" Magnus asked.
Aubrey raised a hand. "Free time. I vote we have free time instead of the Nature activities."
Lup held up a hand for a fist bump. "I second that plan. Free time sounds cool."
"I hate nature after watching Merle dirty talk the plant; I would rather not have anything to do with it," Taako put in.
"We could chase down mountain lions, then bring them back to camp and teach them to be nice, like pets or something. That'd be fun."
"Magnus, there aren’t any mountain lions near Camp Faerun-" Barry began.
"Oh." His head drooped.
"-But we do have coyotes in the area."
"Hell yeah! Thanks Barold. Gotta go, the coyotes are waiting!"
Before Duck could stop him, Magnus had run off into the woods. Duck held up a hand hopelessly before turning to look at Barry accusingly.
Barry shrugged. "I can get the rest of them out of your hair too, if you'd prefer that."
Duck shut his eyes, counted to ten, and reopened them. "Hey Barry, do you know what time it is?" Duck asked hopefully.
"10:30," Barry said, glancing at his watch. "Why do you ask?"
Duck put his head in his hands despairingly. "Today’s gonna be a long day, isn’t it?"
Barry nodded. “Probably.”