Sunday, 24 October 2021

F Fic, Non-fic

The Test

the testby Don Tassone


 On a mutual dare, Brad, David and Jason, all 19 years of age and the best of friends, decided to take a year off of college and spend it together, camping in the woods of the Adirondack Mountains.

 They set up camp in a primitive site about a mile from a lake. Each of them pitched his own tent and built a lean-to over it. They packed in as much dried food as they could carry and went into town once a month to replenish their supplies. They caught trout, bass and perch in the lake and cooked it for dinner nearly every night.

 Fishing from shore was easy. But when the weather turned cold in the fall and the lake began to freeze, fishing became a challenge.

 None of them had ever ice fished. It took them time to learn how to use a gas-powered augur to drill holes in the ice and set tip-ups.

 They made a rule that when one of them was ice fishing, the other two needed to be nearby, just in case the ice should crack. This usually meant two of them were sitting around a small fire at the edge of the lake, staying warm, while one sat on a bucket on the ice, shivering and praying for the flag to go up.

 At night, they sat around the fire, talking. They’d grown up together, but now they’d been away from each other, at college, for nearly a year. It was good to catch up.

 In sharing their latest experiences, they also began to realize they were changing. They’d always gotten along so well, but now they began to argue and bicker.

 By winter, there were whole days when they didn’t speak to one another. They simply stayed in their tents. The cold became an alibi for not engaging.

 ~~~

 By early March, the daytime temperatures began to rise, though it was still freezing at night. One morning, they awoke to six inches of fresh snow, a reminder that it was still very much winter in the Adirondacks.

 After breakfast, they gathered their fishing gear and headed to the lake. Brad stayed at the edge of lake to build a fire. David and Jason trudged out onto the ice. David dragged a small, plastic sled bearing their fishing gear. He would do the fishing today, but Jason would help him get started.

 About a hundred yards out, they stopped and lifted the augur from the sled. David held it up, the tip of the drill bit resting on the surface of the ice. Jason yanked the cord. The engine screamed to a start. David held the device steady and pressed a button on the handle.

 The drill began spinning. It bit into the ice, sending pieces of it flying. A few moments later, slushy water sloshed over the edges of the new hole.

 David cut the engine. Jason helped him carry the augur back over to the sled, then headed back toward the edge of the lake.

 He was about halfway to shore when he heard a noise, like muffled thunder, behind him. He felt a vibration beneath his feet.

 He wheeled around. David was kneeling next to the hole, setting the tip-up. Crack! He dropped out of sight. A moment later, he popped up, like a bobber.

 “Help!” he screamed, his bare fingers clawing at the edge of the ice.

Jason’s instinct was to run toward him. But he froze, worried that he too might fall through.

At the edge of the lake, Brad saw what was happening.

 “Jason!” he yelled. “Empty the sled and slide it over to David!”

 Jason took a step toward the sled. But then he heard a loud crack and felt the ice beneath him shift and give way. Within seconds, he too was in the water.

 Brad looked around for something he could use to pull his friends out. He spotted a long, thick pine bough on the ground. He grabbed it and ran out on to the ice.

 He stopped about ten feet short of the open water, lay down on his belly and inched forward, making sure the ice was secure, and slid the branch toward David.

 “Grab it! I’ll pull you out!”

 David grabbed the branch with both hands. Brad got on his knees, leaned back and pulled as hard as he could. David was able to lift his elbows up onto the ice. But he could go no farther, and Brad was afraid to get too close to the edge of the ice.

 Then David lurched forward. Jason was pushing him up from behind. His torso was now up on the ice. Only his legs still dangled in the water. Cautiously, Brad leaned forward, grabbed David by his coat and pulled him out.

 Then he slid the branch back to the edge of the ice. Jason grabbed it and pulled himself up. Brad stood up and helped Jason to his feet. David was lying face down on the ice, moaning.

“Come on,” Brad said, bending down on one knee. “Help me pick him up.”

They put David’s arms around their necks and dragged him toward the edge of the lake. It took them half an hour to get back to camp.

When they got there, David was mumbling incoherently. His lips were blue, and his fingers were white.

 “Get into some dry clothes,” Brad said to Jason. “I’ll take care of him.”

 Brad unzipped David’s tent and stuffed him inside. He laid him on his sleeping bag and peeled off his wet clothes. With a soft towel, he dried his skin, rubbing his arms and legs to warm them. He pulled clothes from his pack and dressed him in two layers.

 He looked through David’s gear but couldn’t find another coat. So he went to his own tent and got his spare coat, along with a dry hat and pair of gloves, and put them on his friend.

 Warming up, David began to come to his senses.

 “What’s going on?”

 “You fell through the ice. But you’re OK. Let’s go out and sit by the fire.”

 By now, Jason had the fire roaring. Brad helped David sit down on a log, then sat beside him, propping him up.

 “Thanks,” David said, his teeth chattering.

 “Yeah, thanks, Brad,” Jason added.

 “No problem, guys. I know you’d do the same for me.”

 ~~~

 An hour or so later, the three of them got so warm sitting around the fire that they took off their hats and gloves and unzipped their coats.

 They’d been saving a bottle of bourbon for a special occasion. Falling through the ice and living to talk about it certainly seemed to qualify. They sat around the fire, drinking, talking and even laughing about their ordeal the rest of the day.

 And they kept talking, the rest of that winter and through the spring.

 They shared everything. Their differences became plain. Once again, they argued. But it didn’t matter. They were friends. And the only thing that mattered was their friendship, which they’d let slip away until, one morning, it was put to a test.


Don Tassone lives in Loveland, Ohio and teaches public relations at Xavier University in Cincinnati. His latest stories have appeared in the Olentangy Review, TWJ Magazine, Red Fez, Five 2 One Magazine, Ray's Road Review, The Zodiac Review and Flash Fiction Magazine.

 

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