He knew it would happen, One. Fine. Day. And Here. We. Are., he thought. He really should have brushed up on the life.skills 101 - he thought. He remembers 'How To Read A Map' being in the top 5 life.skills. He thinks. He isn't sure of that. He is sure he had a HUGE.CLUE that day, about three and a half years ago, when he and about four of his closest friends, could not grasp the concept of working a rotary phone.
'Let your fingers do the walking' was only for dialing, not web-surfing? Maybe.
He knew that day, about three and a half years ago. He knew he should have 'read.up', maybe even 'smartened.up'. But he was too busy having, what the non-elect call, FUN. Always a FUN distraction from taking 30 minutes or less to 'read.up'. If. Only.
The map is unwieldy. Too big. Too much information, all.at.once. He knows he should know this. The 'school' said he should know this. They gave him a C passing grade in geography class. So he knows he should know. But the map, the paper, all of those lines, and colors, and WORST.OF.ALL...numbers and letters. All on this BIG.MAP.
He unfolded it for the third time, and ripped a hole in the middle when he did. 'I can probably buff that out', he thought.
'It'll all be ok', he thought. It was starting to get dark. He knew how to put a tent up, that's one thing he knew. Where would he get a tent? Now? No one is around. No one has been on this road for hours.
He crossed the road's embankment and went to sit in the woods. With the BIG.MAP. He was hungry. And thirsty. He needed the map to tell him where to go to get some supper. He unfolded it for the fourth time.
There was a pointy star looking thing on the top. His grandfather had something like this, a compost? No, compass! That's right! He remembered 'True.North' or something like that. But he didn't remember what it meant, exactly. He was going to get around to it, one. of. these. days. He. REALLY. WAS.
'Where am I now? That'll be the ticket'. He had come from the southern part of the village, when the Gray Punicators came into view on the horizon. They were very loud. And very dark. And everyone ran. He does not know what happened to the other runners. It was chaotic, and he is so tired now.
He knows there is a stream close-by. He is looking for it on the BIG.MAP. Blue squiggly lines mean water, he is most sure. But there is this thing called scale at the bottom, with some more numbers, and some dots too. Oh, boy. He is getting hungrier.
1 : 50,000. Oh, boy. He refolds the map and closes his eyes. He never had to work anything like this out before, not one day in his whole, entire life. Oh, boy. He is really thirsty now.
He does have a small flashlight, on his old key-ring. It is working. YES! He unfolds the map for the fifth time. And shines the light. Right through the hole in the center. Just at first. Then he looks for the name of the road he is on. And does not find it.
There are some numbers, 'routes'? 'interstates'? He only knows this is Old Line Lane. He didn't know what the mapmakers call it, or what number they assign to it. He may just have to sleep here tonight. He hears the rumblings of the Punicators, not too far off. He better shut the flashlight off. He knows that much.
He shuts his eyes, too. And thinks about his grandfather. All the THINGS. HE. KNEW. That wealth of knowledge, brimming over - he could have had it all. He was going to get to that. One. Fine. Day.
Unshakeable faith, his grandfather had. What would THAT be like to have, and to hold?, he thought as his stomach growled, and other noises got a little louder. There would be no sleeping in this night. No mapreading or eating, either. No sir-ree-bob, none of that at all, he thought.
If only. He remembered his grandfather talking about Jack London. His grandfather talked about a lot of people like that. His grandfather read a lot of books, when he could get them. He read the newspapers, mostly from trash bins. His grandfather was almost always 'lagging behind' everyone else, but he was one of those, that once he caught up, there was no regression. EVER.
He didn't remember, exactly, what his grandfather said about Jack London. He knew about The Call of the Wild, he remembered that movie, and heard it had been a book first. He does remember that The Call of the Wild was NOT what his grandfather was talking about with the Jack London. He thinks it may have had something to do with a fire, but he is not sure, exactly. And another dog, too? But he is not sure, exactly.
Something about building a fire? Maybe? ‘If that was ever a movie, I guessed I missed it’, he thought. The noises were very loud. On the road. Close-by. He stayed very still. Hardly breathing. Hardly thinking. But thinking he smelled his grandfather’s pipe smoke. Mixed with old paper. He thought he smelled that, but he wasn’t sure, exactly.
They are passing by, on the road, the loud ones, the dark ones. Heavy-footed, heavy-clubb-ed. ‘Just keep going’, he thought. ‘Just. Keep. Going’. And they did.
But, of course, that is never the end of it. Even he knows this much. This much, from the movies. That little tidbit of knowledge, alone, makes sleep impossible.
His grandfather’s words, echoed back around, from so long ago, on a dark night a little like this – the same only different – ‘To build a fire sometimes requires imagination, son. We wouldn't always think so, though, would we?' He was no more than 5 years of age when his grandfather said that. He didn't REALLY remember him saying that, it was a thought in his head that he knew, for certain, was true.