Cast Off Doubt

Note: 4 guys go on a fishing trip together and get lost in a storm; there are hints of the movie Without a Paddle here intentionally since it is one of my all-time favorites. Despite the friends' doubts of survival, they rediscover themselves and find their way back home.

Chapter 1—Four Friends

Victor Katz, his younger brother Alex and their two best friends, Jay Folgore and Patrick Staunch had decided to take the trip of a lifetime. In their youth, they had gone to amusement parks together, seen the 50 continental states by car (this was before gas prices skyrocketed) and seen their favorite band Iron Maiden in concert. They were all fathers, taking care of their own families but they had decided a bit of "guy time" could do them some good. Their wives were all very supportive of this adventure and allowed them to their own devices. Little did they know how fierce Mother Nature could be.

Unaware of what lay ahead for their husbands, the wives bid their mates farewell and watched them as they threw their camping equipment into Jay's Chevrolet truck and headed off to the woods. Meanwhile, the ladies prepared themselves for a week of mani-petties, spa treatments and tons of romantic movies during their sleepovers. It would be

Patrick was the boy scout of the group. He had every possible device known to man to the woods, just in case they were lost. He had watched every episode of Survivorman and had that information in his mind should the group find themselves in a life or death situation. Jay was the laid-back type, looking forward to doing a whole lot of nothing. Alex and Vick abdicated work between the two of them, acting as a team to set up camp and Patrick helped them with their duties. Jay simply lay back in a hammock he had assembled earlier, enjoying the sounds of nature and the sound of a far away stream in the background. He had fortunately brought along his most prized possession, a video camera, to record the events the "Fearless Four" were undertaking. Acting as a narrator, he added comments to the situation that were quite witty and side notes about his best friends. The first day had gone along nicely and Patrick had started a fire the old fashioned way; with flint, rock and pete moss. Before long a blaze had started and the friends were roasting marshmallows for s'mores. The day ended with one of Alex's "tales of terror" that he had heard growing up in the backwoods of Oregon. This location was similar to that and had plenty of history behind it so he played up the history for all it was worth. The only one who was frightened by the ghoulish yarn had been Jay, but he didn't dare admit it to the other men for fear they'd label him as a pansy.

"Goodnight everyone. Tomorrow, I'm off for a hike to start our fishing trip if anyone wants to come with.", Victor said, heading to his conjoined tent. Alex said nothing, only yawned and stretched, tuckered out from all the day's activities. Jay quickly headed to his tent, hoping Pat hadn't seen him shivering in his sleeping bag.

"And here we have Jay the chicken.", Patrick narrated, chuckling. Jay, aggravated, flipped his sleeping bag away from him and grabbed the camera.

"Take that back or you won't get this back from me.", Jay warned, serious about his threat.

"Alright. I'll admit that chilling tale had me a bit worked up there too. But there are no Sasquatch in this area. At least none that have been reported…yet. Look out, Jay ! Sasquatch is gonna get you !", Patrick said, eerily.

"Shut up, Pat ! Just…just…SHUT UP !", Jay stammered, sounding like a teenager in a grown man's body.

"Both of you shut up ! We're trying to sleep over here. Sheesh.", came Alex's annoyed voice from the opposite tent. Hearing him blow up like that wasn't in his demeanor, so they took it as a cue to finally settle down for the evening and rest the rest of the time. Clearly, there would be no animals to bother them since the embers of the fire would keep them away. And even if they did come close, Patrick had a 12-gauge hunter's rifle just to be safe.

Chapter 2—Nature's Fury

Although Jay had been a little rattled thanks to the rumors of Sasquatch, he had slept soundly that night and awoken earlier than anyone else. He was the resident chef among all the others and could fry up a mean batch of bacon, eggs, sausage and gravy. He did, after all, have 3 little kids at home so his wife Bessie couldn't make the meals every single night. They both had their hands full with their batch of little ones, but they didn't complain one bit. Each day, truly, was an adventure, and they were always grateful when dad made his "come and get 'um" blueberry muffins.

The lads came to eat breakfast right on the dot and didn't question what they ate. At this hour in the morning, they were all famished and ate anything they were given. Besides, they all wished to take the trail that Victor wished to take. Patrick had supplied rations, canteens, and odds and ends "as a fail-safe should something go wrong". Alex accused him of being a naysayer as well as a pessimist.

"Look, Al, I'm a realist. We're in the woods. Ratio is 5 to 1 something could or will happen to us.", Victor stated, logically.

"I don't need your numbers. I say we just pack up and go. Heck, even the slacker wants to go with us.", Alex responded a bit huffily. Jay chuckled at the brother's small tiff and helped clean up after breakfast. Quickly, the four middle-aged friends took their backpacks and made their way to the trail and allowed to let the trail take them wherever it lead them.

After following the trail for 4 hours, the gang began to realize that Patrick's compass was broken.

"When was the last time you had that thing checked, Pat ?", Jay asked, who was usually the one who was the most laid back of the bunch. Frankly he was starting to look rather frantic knowing he had gotten his friends and himself lost in the woods. They were miles from camp and walking around in circles. All they could tell was that they weren't going to be making it back home by evening.

"Great, we're screwed now.", Jay muttered switching into negativity incarnate. The other men hadn't known him for being this way, but seeing he was most definitely out of his element they could comprehend why he was bitter.

Suddenly, a flash flood hit and the four were drenched immediately. Unable to see where they were going, they fumbled and tripped around the woods until they found a crag under which to hide. They were shivering from the cold of the rain.

"Quickly, take everything off and huddle together. If we don't we could die.", Patrick said, stoically.

"There's no way I am huddling close to any of you. You all reek of sweat.", Alex confessed. Alex could be a bit phobic of germs but only now had it been revealed to Victor and he had known his brother well all his life.

"Look, Al…If we don't do what Pat says, we'll freeze to death. Which is more important: freezing to death or living to see our families again ?", Victor questioned. "Undeniably, family is the pillar of my survival.", Al responded, honestly.

"I think we should forget modesty and get ourselves warm.", Jay said, actually sounding rational for once. Stripping down to their underwear, the guys hugged each other and promised that not a word of their "cuddling" would me mentioned outside the cave, lest other people get the wrong impression. Strangely homoerotic as it was, the guys kept themselves comfortable and slept through the rest of the night unhindered.

Chapter 3--The Long Journey Back Home

Jay awoke the rest of the men with a high-pitched scream. If the men hadn't had known better they would've thought a woman had gotten lost with them on their misadventure.

"Guys, our clothes are gone ! Look around you, we've been carried off course again.", Jay said, almost starting to stammer he was so upset. If he had been any angrier, he would've passed out from stress. Alex calmed him and patted his shoulder.

"We're still alive. If we have Pat find Polaris tonight, I am sure we will be headed in the right direction toward the camp. We may be terribly off course but we'll find our way back on the right trail. We can't abandon hope." , Alex stated, optimistically. It seemed that no matter how dour the situation seemed or how gloomy the skies were in the heavens, he was a ray of light to the lot of them.

Cold and hungry, the four ate what they could on the way back. They ate fish they caught selectively, seeing as it could've been tainted by mercury by pollution. In this case, they had no other means of nutrition, but they weren't complaining. Pat had found Polaris in the handle of the "Big Dipper" and pointed them back on the correct trail. It was hard to follow in the evening since the sun's light was growing dim, but they could see that their campgrounds weren't too far away. Tired of walking for 10 hours on end, the foursome decided it was time to build a fire, curl up together again for warmth and sleep until the morning.

Their providing food for the morning was meager, but it was enough to keep them energized for the arduous walk ahead. Pat continued to lead them and they began to see familiar trees.

"We are going to take it nice and easy. If we run, we might exhaust ourselves, and I am not going to be carrying one of you back to the camp !", Victor stated, with a bit of irritation in his voice. He wasn't going to be responsible for being everyone's father in this situation, but somehow, he had become the unofficial leader even though Pat had been the one with all the right directions in one of the most ancient arts of history: stargazing.

After what seemed to be endless footsteps the four men saw a welcome sight. Some of them even kissed the ground, not caring if they would get grass stains in their teeth. They had extra clothes packed in their suitcases and would change after bathing that evening. There was a river not too far from the grounds and two men would go together since it was already evening and night would not be far behind.

Chapter 4--On the Road to Comfort

Pat had been the first to arrive at the campsite and despite his fatigue, had been able to scrounge up what was left of their rations. The others found kindling and firewood for a fire and began cooking. That evening was spent savoring their food a bit more deliberately than before, taking their time to enjoy the friendship they had and the fact that they hadn't died from hypothermia.

Jay didn't waste any time getting the truck started as soon as the guys loaded their supplies up and heaped them into the trunk.

"I can't wait to head back into civilization. Soon as I do, I'm giving my dearest wife the cuddling of a lifetime and the kids are gonna eat ice cream til they PUKE !", he said and then suddenly broke into song. Oddly, he sang The Bear Climbed Over the Mountain, to which the other men groaned inwardly. Outwardly, they sang along, not really caring about the song inasmuch as returning home to the conveniences and blessings that were readily available at a moment's notice.

Chapter 5--The Friends' Pledge

No sooner had the men arrived home did they make a pact.

"I swear to God…if any of you bozos ask me to go camp again I'll break your legs in your sleep.", Alex threatened. That was the only trait that set him apart from his brother, who hardly ever raised his voice or became upset.

"Don't mind Alex. He means well but he's just overwhelmed.", Victor stated, honestly. Alex was a bit tired. He hadn't been sleeping well since the "huddling together" incidences and it would take him a while to clear his mind of ever being so close to his friends, let alone his own brother. That had been a bit of a traumatic experience for him, but luckily he was tough, so he'd overcome it in a few more days.

Upon meeting their wives the husbands swept them up romantically and kissed them, all very passionately and without inhibitions. They all spent more time together with them, and their children. Even Vick himself did that, wondering why he hadn't seen the error of his ways earlier. He needed a life-threatening situation to see that he had to take advantage of the blessings that life had so graciously handed to him. And of course, his friendship with his 2 friends was closer than ever. He felt like they were his brothers, but he knew he wouldn't be making a camping trip like that one unless it was a public site with facilities.

Epilogue

A year had passed since the unforgettable fishing trip. Most of the fish they had caught had been caught by hand, rather than by fishing rod and hook. Looking back at it now, fish had never tasted so good but none of the guys ever wanted to take a trip up to the river again. If they wanted to experience nature, the backyard seemed to be acceptable, at least for the time being. Someday, they thought they would go back to the woods, but as their pact had said, only if it was a public camping grounds and that would be sufficient.

As the men ate together during their 4th of July cookout, they marveled at Jay's mastery of the grill. Apparently, they had forgotten that he could cook just about anything and had won numerous fair prizes for his sumptuous barbeque formula. To this day, Jay's recipe had remained a secret and not even his wife knew what it was. He would probably give the secret to his children on his death bed, but as far as the other guys were concerned they understood why he kept it so heavily guarded in his ingenious mind.

No sooner had the family become full when desserts had been offered.

"I can't possibly…Look at this figure ! This takes work !", Alex said, boldly showing off his hard six-pack abs. Victor rolled his eyes.

"Don't make the others lose their lunch, Al.", Victor said, kidding around with his younger brother. Alex chuckled and mussed Victor's hair, as he would when they were kids.

"I think I should take my cue from Al, guys.", Pat said, pointing to his belly, which was a little pudgy, but nothing a little exercise and dedication couldn't fix. Jay didn't even dare comment, because he was the short and stout one of the group and noticed they were all looking at him.

"What ?!" he shouted, in a rather paranoid fashion. The whole lot of them laughed and he finally joined in. He felt if he couldn't laugh at himself then there was something terribly wrong with either his self esteem or the estate of the world. This jocularity and joviality went long into the evening until it began to become dark and fireworks were ignited.

The fireworks dazzled the eyes of the family as they watched together. It seemed that every year, the show became bigger, louder and more colorful. Even the displays were outstanding, especially the finale. It had to be the most glorious display of color the guys had ever seen in their lifetimes.

After finishing off the last of their own firecrackers, the parents said their goodbyes, the children had gone to sleep and everyone had headed on their own way to their homes in different directions. There were a few people in the streets still playing merrily with sparklers, laughing and joking, their hearts illumined by love. It brightened the hearts of the guys as they each went home in their cars, thinking about how blessed they were. Nothing would ever be the same again. Their story they would one day tell to their kids when they were old enough to understand its true meaning, but for the moment, it remained the friends' inside joke and to this day, it was still hilarious.

The End