David didn’t like this protocol, now that he looked back on it. He didn’t like it one bit. But it’d surprisingly worked for generations of campers before these ones, so he had to trust it. Straightening himself and clearing his throat, he lifted his head with a shaky smile to meet the faces of the ten angry campers staring sharply at him, as they always did.
“Alright, campers!” He chirped, voice wobbly. “Today we’re going to be doing Search and Rescue camp, with some of Mr. Campbell’s old procedures!” He still didn’t like this, but there was really no other way.
Gwen shot him a questioning glance, which meant she’d never been over this before. “So, how does this even work?”
David tore away from her gaze, quietly flipping through the pages on his clipboard one last time. Dread settled in his stomach. The eerie silence of the campers watching him with confused eyes made him straighten his posture, putting on a mask of confidence. This was what Mr. Campbell did, he assured himself. They’d be fine.
“We’re going to be sending one camper on some of our clearer trails!” He announced with a usual wide smile. The campers didn’t seem surprised by this; the camp was shady anyway, and they’ve been through enough. “They’ll be given about ten minutes to be able to hide somewhere around the trails, and then we’ll split campers in groups of three to search for them. You can use any skills to find them, simple enough!”
“That sounds FUN!” Nikki howled first, and the campers instantly burst into a ruckus of excited chattering, seemingly ignoring David standing there, sweating nervously. Gwen rubbed the back of her neck with an exasperated sigh. She didn’t seem nervous either. Maybe it was just a bad feeling of his?
“Alright,” Gwen stood up, clear venom in her tone which caused David to flinch, “Any of you shits want to volunteer as a tribute to go out alone for a while?”
There was a long moment of silence, perhaps contemplation. On one hand, it was like a game of hide and seek. On the other hand, it was a chance for them to pair up with their friends and have fun for a while. David’s hands began to tremble.
“Yeah, what the fuck, I’ll go.”
David and Gwen’s gaze shot to the small camper next to Neil. Max looked tired, per usual, leaning against the taller boy’s shoulder and browsing David’s phone (which is probably where his phone had been for like… a week, now). A foreign emotion flashed in Gwen’s eyes, which only made David’s anxiety peak as he tried to keep calm.
“Max- I… okay, are you sure?” Gwen mumbled, a lot quieter and less aggressive than she had been. “You know you could get lost out there.” Really confirming David’s anxieties in that situation.
The low mumbling came to a halt as Max looked up at the woman, jade eyes cold yet analytical. “Gwen. First of all, you fuckin’ know that I’m not going to get lost. Besides! I have David’s shitty phone, I can just call your ass if I lose my way.”
Gwen shut her mouth and clenched her jaw.
“Alrighty, Max!” David purred, marching over to the group of campers who spoke to each other quietly under their breath, some even gesturing to each other, probably with the intent to pair up. “Please don’t go off the trail. You can have a ten minute head start, too, just for the extra challenge! For us, of course.”
“Alright, alright, Jesus.” Max waved his hand dismissively, stuffing David’s phone in his pocket and pushing Neil lightly away, perhaps a thoughtful movement to tell Neil he was moving. Did they usually do that? David didn’t pay attention to those little things unless there were specific circumstances.
Neil stared at Max with a look akin to concern as the boy gave a peace sign and began to walk away, seemingly into the woods. David watched as Neil attempted to meet Nikki’s glance, who seemed to be bouncing around with Nerris and Dolph, and then successfully met eyes with Gwen. Why was Neil so concerned? David gave a mental note to ask later, calmly setting his clipboard down and clapping his hands together as Gwen talked to Neil under her breath.
“Alright, everyone!” David chirped, “Get into groups of three, and then you’ll be sent off! Good luck!”
Fuck, this was stupid.
Max knew this, and he wanted to scream, mostly at himself. But he had to admit that he needed time from people. All of their stupid, ingenuine grins and David’s annoying-ass chattering, Nikki constantly… just… tackling him, Neil’s disgusting rambling that Max could never break away from, and the others being so loud. He guessed that he’d only be out for twenty or thirty minutes, but any time was good. Maybe he could actually fucking sleep this time.
Maybe… if he… hm. Max stopped once he was further in the trail, glancing around at his empty surroundings. The soil under his shoes clearly left an obvious trail to his area, which meant finding him would be easy. Too easy. If he wanted this to be a challenge, he’d have to make it a challenge, which meant he’d get more alone time to enjoy his thoughts. The things that he actually liked to do.
Please don’t go off the trail.
Max clenched his fist, eyes darkening. Y’know what David? Specifically today, fuck you. His blank stare into the shadows of the woods darkened as he stomped out of bounds, disappearing into the woods, proud of himself for defying David once again, even in his little ways. His path would end there to everyone else, which meant they’d check other trails, or make assumptions. Perfect.
He continued walking until he couldn’t see the trail behind him, a genuine grin painted on his features. Max then stopped in place, feeling the gentle breeze in his hair, sitting down in the grass with a relieved sigh. His feet were burning due to the rocky surface, and his shoes weren’t exactly the best for that. He didn’t have any other shoes than his usual, so he didn’t have much of a choice anyway.
He didn’t know how long he sat there before he opened his eyes again, huffing something inaudible between his teeth. He peered behind his shoulder and froze in his spot, relief dying down. The teeth of irritation finally seized is heart as he hopped to his feet, glancing around with anger. Which way was the trail again? How long had he been sitting here? Would the search party know that he’d wandered off.
Fuck, now he felt bad about it. Not exactly what he was going for. He looked at the sky again, mostly for relief, and noticed it had darkened to more of a... grayish-blue color. The atmosphere was a lot more dreary, cooling down. Slapping a mosquito on his cheek, Max grumbled enough curses to make a sailor blush and stood up, panic bubbling in his chest as he turned to walk back where he had assumed he would’ve been.
It’d be okay. Because he was Max, and he was not a fucking damsel in distress. He’d be fine. One of the groups would find him, or he’d discover one of the trails and make his way back to camp, or maybe he’d have to sleep in the woods just this once. He’d done it once before, with Sasha and Pikeman. But the others hadn’t found him. He’d come back on his own.
A raindrop hit the bridge of Max’s nose.
Fuck. They weren’t going to find him like this.
Max had walked a while in the afternoon heat, glancing around as more drops of water hit him on the head. Walking this long made his ankles and feet hurt as the fatigue, mixed with the fear of his situation set in. How long had he been out here? It must’ve been at least a half and hour, so he couldn’t have gone far. Maybe they were still hopeful and looking for him.
Dark clouds continued forming overhead as he sat down, contemplating his options. He lazily pulled his hood over his head as the rain began to fall at a light pace, nothing noticeably bad. Just a simple rainstorm, so he couldn’t sleep out in the open like he’d initially hoped. Pulling David’s phone out of his pocket, he checked the reception and scowled when it wasn’t working. Which meant he might have to get to a higher vantage point.
That could work. He’d deal. He’d have to. Max felt a lightbulb go off in his brain. Possibly better reception to call Gwen and inform her of the situation, and maybe even to see his location and find camp so he could go to a trail and get found for the sake of the activity. He hated himself for thinking about the activity at all. They were tasked with finding him anyway, so maybe getting a random group ice cream was okay. Fucking Christ, this was blown out of proportion and he hated it.
Max grinned at his expert thinking and moved to the closest, biggest tree around him. How was he going to climb it anyway? There were enough thick low branches, but quite a lot of gaps in between them. So he’d have to be careful, especially since the falling rain that sent a chill through his hoodie and into his bones would make it a lot slippier.
Grappling onto one of the low branches, he heaved himself up, repeating the process with the next one. He was higher up than he had expected, but not enough to see more of his surroundings. The rain began to become more noticeable, and a shitton more irritating. The sky had completely darkened as the clouds bunched up, blocking the sun out of the skies. It almost felt like fucking nighttime… was it at this point? He hadn’t been paying much attention.
Max continued his slow climb to the top until he found himself at a very intimidating height, maybe twenty feet, shivering as the temperature dropped. His hoodie felt so thin in this cold. He pulled his hood a bit further over his head, trembling profusely as he looked around.
No sight of the trail. No sight of anything he could recognize.
He pulled David’s phone out of his pocket and checked the reception. Nadda. He was alone, and he didn’t know where camp was, and he couldn’t jump off because he’d probably die, or slam his head against the rock that he could barely make out in the gloom that was far below him… or maybe that branch… fuck.
Fuck… Fuck... FUCK! This had been blown out of proportion, and now he was lost and absolutely fucked. Please don’t go off the trail. Please don’t go off the trail. Please don’t go off the trail… Unfuck David, I guess. Maybe he actually meant something.
Search and Rescue camp is a load of bullshit. Maybe I’ll make Nikki do it next time.
Hands digging deep into the bark, he looked down at the convenient branches he’d used to get up. They were looser than he’d assumed; he didn’t know if he could get down again, which meant he might have an issue.
Mumbling multiple of his vague ideas under his breath, he stared into the distance, which was just forest, forest, and more forest. He must’ve walked the wrong way, and these woods stretched through hundreds of miles. His little feet could’ve maybe taken him ten miles away from the camp, which meant he’d have to do more walking. Maybe he could try climbing hire, but there wasn’t any chance he could get down…
Not a damsel in distress, he reminded himself, absorbing himself in his scattered thoughts, jade eyes narrowing. The rain was terrifyingly cold… since when had he felt this cold before? Damn, he hated rainstorms. Just annoying rain.
A clap of thunder terrified him out of his thoughts. The branch under him cracked.
Panic rose into his throat, and Max absolutely hated the surprised cry that ripped out of him. He should’ve called for help or done something. Then there was weightlessness, a feeling of falling as his eyes welled with tears. He was so high up and there was no way he’d get out with any injuries and holy shit he was going to die.
Pain ripped through his abdomen, more sharp than he’d expected. Max gave a few horrified, frantic gasps as spots of black appeared in his blurred vision, pain running throughout his whole body. He continued to curse instead of cry out, though his throat began to hurt. Blood pooled in the grass as he attempted to get a look at his injury, to no avail. He couldn’t make anything out. Another clap of thunder, except this time he couldn’t move… he couldn’t move. The tears blended in with the rain as he flopped helplessly against the ground, deep breathing becoming shallow.
He tasted his own blood. It was so dark… everything was so dark… something had intruded him… through him. Had that branch actually impaled him? Was it a different branch? Was it… his vision blurred again as his eyes fluttered closed. Any of his questioning thoughts were overwhelmed with pain, and damn… so he really was going to die here.
Please don’t go off the trail.
He gave up from any attempt to protect himself, the sharp tang of blood the last thing he thought about as he finally blacked out.