Inspired by a prompt about summer vacations. This unnamed, teen narrator is writing an essay for school about what they did over summer vacation–and the answer is something the teacher wouldn’t expect.

My most unexpected summer experience was probably at a campground–either the time the whole tent blew into a lake, or the time the camp owner had a quarter-bobcat kitten, which was impressively large, with tufted ears.

Have you ever had a surprising summer experience?

Image from WikiMedia by Kelly.

This  summer I didn’t do too much. My parents, my older brother Joe, and I were going to go camping first thing, but it rained for two weeks straight, so we had to put it off. I’ve been camping in the rain before, and the mud gets everywhere. And then it dries, and that’s worse.

Anyway, we finally had enough sunny days in a row that we could go. We packed up the van with our tents—one for me and Joe and one for our parents, and the cooler full of ice, and the sleeping bags, and air mattresses, the portable grill, all the cooking supplies, and everything else you need for camping not to suck.

First thing, we picked out a spot, not too far from the river, which was moving faster and wider than usual from all that rain. But the ground was dry, just a little soft, so the tent stakes went in easy. The family rule is, you get everything set up first, then you can explore.

 So we put up the tent, inflated the air mattress, and spread the sleeping bags and pillows out. The food went into the bear safe lockers the campground provides, which are a pain to get to and from, but way better than a bear trashing our stuff.

And then, after Mom and Dad tacked on million chores to set up, Joe and I finally escaped camp. We’d been here a bunch of times, and we’d explored a lot of the area already. Down by the river, there were usually some interesting shells or rocks, and tiny silvery fish.

Joe clambered over the bank, reaching out for flowers growing in the shallow water, picking a bouquet for Mom. 

Suck up.

Some weird, twisty-looking craft, like a kayak in shape, but mostly under the water, swept by on the current, knocking into his hand as he reached. Startled, he yelped, and fell in.

Water splashed, but Joe had landed on the warped kayak-thing, so he wasn’t really in the current. The boat bucked under his weight, the far end tipping up, showing off a bunch of pipes and cables under a clear covering, like saran wrap only sort of green.

Joe flailed, clawing at the boat-thing, and it shifted, cables sliding under the covering, and wrapping around him. It got him trapped, and then it took off down river.

“Joe!” I yelled, and I heard him shout something back, but then he was gone. I ran after him, and then I realized I’d never catch up. So I turned around, and ran back to camp, hoping I hadn’t made a mistake.

You were supposed to get help, right? Not follow along and maybe end up needing rescue, yourself?

My parents didn’t believe me, about Joe and the weird boat that had scooped him up. And they didn’t buy the story he’d told, when we’d found him, two hours after we started looking—which was an hour and a half after I burst into camp, shouting that Joe’d been eaten by a kayak.

We were just being funny, they said.

I didn’t think it was funny, as I listened to Joe talk about the strange smell of the boat, metallic and green, like a pool of stagnant water and blood. How it felt, plasticy and slick, but strangely dry, the water beading off the surface as soon as it splashed on. He couldn’t remember much—landing on the craft, the feel of it moving under him, then over him, like he was drowning in the air.

It had wrapped around him, pinning his legs, and hands, and then he’d felt a patch of cold on one arm, and a patch of heat on the other, a sharp tingling sensation running from his legs to his chest… and blackness.

The next thing he knew, Joe said, he was on the shore, bone dry, his head spinning.

And of course, our parents thought he’d fallen in, and bumped his head, then luckily been washed to the shore. The day wasn’t bright enough for a couple hours to dry his clothes, but they let that little detail slide. 

We were telling stories, or confused, and that was that.

I stewed over that injustice for a while, but I stopped trying to tell the story pretty quick, when it became clear that neither of them were going to listen. Joe didn’t give in so quickly, until they started talking about therapy, and made him go to a session. Then he changed his tune, stretching the blackness part to cover the rest. 

He’d been picking flowers, fallen in, hit his head, and maybe been washed up, or maybe half-woken and pulled himself out, and then passed out again.

End of story.

Except Joe was still moping around. Rubbing his arms, where he’d said he felt cold or hot, or flexing and shifting his legs like they’d fallen asleep. So I started campaigning for a winter camping trip, which we don’t do so often because it might snow. But I think I can win them over.

And then I’ll have something to write about for what we did over winter break, other than family visits and who burned what dishes.

About Caitlin Stern

I have a MA in English, and have so many fantasy/urban fantasy WIPs it's not even funny. I'm an avid reader of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, biography, fiction, and anything else that catches my interest. I collect books, and bookmarks I find that are visually appealing and useful.

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