Currently working on a new project, which is taking up the energy I would normally devote to writing short stories. While I’m busy, please enjoy this short story, which was originally published in January 2015.
Doug dropped his keys on the kitchen counter and opened the fridge door with a heavy sigh. He was too tired to make himself something to eat. It had been a brutal day on the sales floor and all he wanted was to crash in front of the television and not have to talk to another living person ever again.
As he pulled out a container of leftover Chinese food and closed the refrigerator door, he noticed the “Messages” light blinking on his mom’s phone. He wasn’t sure why she even had a landline any more (who has a landline these days?), but he pushed the button without thinking and listened to the message as he started sifting through his box of leftovers.
“Judy, it’s me. Jenny. My house is completely infested with beetles. I just had the exterminator over and he confirmed it. They’re everywhere. I have to leave for a few days while they get them out of here, so I’m going camping. I just wanted to let you know that you won’t be able to reach me for the next week or so. Maybe even a month, who knows! Clearly, this is a sign that I need to get out into nature, so there’s no telling how long I could be out there. Maybe I’ll love it and never want to leave!
“In any case, I hope you and Douglass are doing well. Send him my love, and I’ll call you just as soon as I get back.” She blew a kiss into the phone and hung up.
Doug nearly dropped his meal on the kitchen floor. He saved it, put it on the kitchen counter, grabbed his keys, and ran out the door.
When he got to Aunt Jenny’s house, he opened the door without bothering to knock or ring the doorbell. He half-expecting it to be locked, but it was open and he practically fell into her front hallway.
“Douglass!” said Aunt Jenny. “What on earth are you doing here? I was just leaving to go on a little camping trip.”
“A camping trip?”
“Aunt Jenny,” Doug spoke through gasps as he tried to regain his breath. “Have you ever, in your life, been camping?”
“Do you know the first thing about camping?”
“What’s there to know? You bring a tent and a sleeping bag. You sleep under the stars. How hard could it be?”
“What will you do for food?”
“Oh, don’t worry. I’m bringing along plenty of frozen dinners.”
“What are you going to use to reheat them?”
“A fire, of course. Just think. Sitting out in the woods, around a campfire, cooking all your own meals. Just like they did in the old days!”
“Aunt Jenny, you can’t put a plastic container of food on an open fire. The plastic will melt and ruin all the food.”
“Oh, dear, I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Do you even know how to build a fire?”
“Of course I know how to light a fire! What kind of imbecile doesn’t know how to strike a match?”
“Strike a match? What were you going to do, just hold the match under the logs until they caught fire?”
Doug hung his head in frustration. “Aunt Jenny, you can’t go camping alone. You don’t know the first thing about camping.”
“Then you must come with me.”
“Absolutely. Without you I would be burning plastic over an open fire and ruining my own dinner. The universe knew I would need help getting reacquainted with my wild side, so it sent you to help me.”
“Aunt Jenny, I don’t know the first thing about camping either.”
“Sure you do. You went camping all the time when you were a boy.”
“It’s been a long time since I was in Boy Scouts, Aunt Jenny. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten most of what they taught me.”
“Nonsense, it’s just like riding a bike. You must come with me. Teach me everything they taught you.”
Doug was out of excuses, so he took his aunt to the campsite he used to go to as a boy. The moment he got there, he started hunting for a good spot to set up. Then he raised his aunt’s tent (she had bought a large, fancy new tent she had no idea how to operate).
Then he started hunting about for dry twigs and leaves to start a fire, followed by heavier logs for when the fire was going. Starting a fire turned out to be much more difficult than he remembered. After several tries he gave up and used his aunt’s matchsticks to light the brush on fire, then set the logs over it and waited for them to catch.
Once the fire was going strong, he set a pot over it and heated up some canned soup his aunt had packed. When he turned to give Aunt Jenny her cup of soup, he found she had disappeared. After a moment of panicked searching, he realized she was just lying on her back, looking up at the stars.
“Look at that, Douglass,” she breathed. “Have you ever seen so many stars?”
Doug looked up at the sky for the first time in a very long time. He had seen that many stars, but not since the last time he had been camping many years ago. He stopped, a cup of soup in each hand, and looked up at the view. Maybe this camping thing hadn’t been such a bad idea after all.