CHAPTER ONE

IT'S ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE

"Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling –"

So went Sheriff Andy. He was not really a sheriff; it was more of a name than an actual profession he held. He was middle aged and wore a well-kept cowboy hat on top of his head. Normally, he'd greet people by tipping his trademark hat and with a hearty, "Howdy," or, "How do you do?" Sheriff Andy was a kind and respectable man; the kind of man children listen too, because of the almost unreal stories he told, and his supreme wisdom. He knew how to skin a deer in three minutes, could use the constellations to navigate his way across the wilderness, and knew much about the numerous critters of the earth. His knowledge of the wild and surviving surpassed that of most men, who nowadays can barely find their remote control in their own living room, let alone fend for themselves in a vast forest.

He was driving a Ford F-150, and attached to this truck was a trailer. The side of it read 'Troop 307 Camping Supplies'. Andy was very much involved with things like Boy Scouts, and he certainly was the right man for the job. Troop 307 was like family to him; (he was actually the uncle of one of the boys in the troop). Andy's pickup truck held three other passengers: one in the front, two crammed in the back. The one riding shotgun's name was Sean. He was a lanky teenage boy with greasy black hair and pale skin. Despite his low attendance to troop functions, he was well liked. He had certain calmness to his person, but that didn't subdue his violent tendencies from showing at times. Save the two other Scouts in the truck with him, Sean more often than not just put up with the other Scouts instead of getting along with them. The two boys in the back were called Trevor and Tyler. Trevor was a muscular lad with medium length, curly brown hair. He wasn't 'ripped' per se, but was large with an athletic build, like a body built for shot put. However, this couldn't be more inaccurate, as he was a true thespian at heart. He was intelligent and had wits, as the boys all knew. A smile adorned his face most of the time, and he was constantly cracking jokes, to the point where nobody could stay angry at him for more than a few minutes or so. He was the Senior Patrol Leader of the troop. This basically meant that, aside from the Scoutmaster, he was the leader of the boys and had to make sure they were doing everything they were supposed to be doing). He was mostly liked as a leader, but sometimes he could get off topic.

Tyler sat next to Trevor in the back seat. One of the first notable things about Tyler is that he was tall. Built for running, he was slender, his legs making up about seventy-five percent of his body. He had acne on his face and shoulders, to the point that one could not help but notice it and assume that he did not have a girlfriend because of it. Personality-wise, he was quiet but on occasion, was known to drag up his sense of humor that he sometimes kept within himself. He had a certain social awkwardness to him; but as stated before he was funny and he was a good friend, so he was well-received by the other boys.

The truck was carrying the three to their weekend campout, which was sure to be a blast. Almost the whole group was going, which was a rare feat to be achieved in recent months. Sheriff Andy, by now, had taken them deep into the heart of the wilderness, up mountains and through dark forests. The truck rumbled along the fading, paved road, with the four eager Boy Scouts inside it.

Trailing a mile or so behind them was a large white van. The driver of it was not singing 'Oh My Darling,' as his singing voice would probably cause anyone within a ten mile radius to go deaf. This driver's name was Howard, who just so happened to be the Scoutmaster for Troop 307, and had been for the past few years. The age of forty-five had struck him with one of the most terrible things ever: gray hair. It reminded him of the fact that he wasn't getting any younger. He wore glasses and was somewhat of a hefty man. As for his personality, he was a great Scoutmaster: he listened to the kids, connected with them, tried to give them ideas...

His one problem was that he was laid back. Sometimes the kids just would not listen to him. He would then diminish quietly and just hope the Scouts didn't get themselves killed. He had never really stepped up; he left that to Trevor. He seemed to be a pretty good leader.

The rest of the van was filled with most of the other members of Troop 307. There was Jackson and Dan, Austin and Davy, and last but not least, Cody. Cody was the nephew of Sheriff Andy. He was a small boy with mousy brown hair and deep coffee eyes. Forever eager to speak, he was overlooked a lot. Because of this, along with some family background, he hated it when anyone did not show him, or his friends, the respect he deserved.

Cody was playing a card game called Yu-Gi-Oh! with Austin. Yu-Gi-Oh! was pretty much the troop pastime. Most of the Scouts, especially the younger ones, played the game. It was too confusing for the older boys, as it involved 'attack points,' 'power levels,' and a bunch of other mumbo jumbo that apparently only made sense to kids that were into that kind of stuff and Japanese people. Austin, Cody's opponent, was very loud and obnoxious, and seemed incapable of whispering. This was one of the reasons he always got caught cheating on tests in school. He considered himself to be one of the smartest people on the face of the planet, and anything less than this he would not admit to. However, he had a big heart and was good with his hands, so he was worth having around.

In front of Cody and Austin were Dan and Davy. Dan, one of the older boys in age but younger in experience, had probable slept half his life away and yawned the other half. He seemed to be allergic to pollen, peanuts, and work. From small, simple tasks to long, harrowing ones he would not lift a finger. Instead he would yawn and say, "I'd probably mess it up anyway."

Dan (no surprise) lay in his chair, sleeping soundly. And next to him, sat Davy.

This boy was different than all the others; not because he was pale and very chubby, but because he was extremely immature. He found humor in bodily functions, made idiotic statements, and told inappropriate jokes, which were not in the least bit funny. He would almost always say or do something stupid, thus making himself look like a complete fool, embarrass the troop, and lose the little respect he had gained prior to the situation. He did, however, do his work, but he would screw around ninety percent of the time and screw up the other ten. A psychiatrist would call him hopeless, the boys would call him an imbecile, but he would call himself Davy.

At this point he was watching Dan sleep. Every few seconds he would say something with the template of, "Hey Dan, if you like to *insert inappropriate or strange action here*, don't say anything." Then as Dan continued his slumber, Davy would cackle with laughter and start again.

As Davy asked Dan questions he knew he couldn't hear, a skinny boy with long blonde hair and distant blue eyes sat in the front seat by Howard. His name was Jackson. Jackson had been in Scouts for as long as he could remember, and liked it too. He had learned a lot from the program and wanted to stay in it, but in Troop 307, things had begun to go downhill. The shift in leadership was a shaky one, and Trevor had stepped up to the plate. Jackson's brow furrowed. Trevor. He liked Trevor as a friend... but not as a leader. He thought he himself would make a better leader than Trevor. But the votes had been cast and his peers had chosen Trevor over him. No big deal. No hard feelings. Jackson unknowingly bit his lip, his anger becoming more conspicuous on his face. Howard took notice of this. "You okay, uh Jackson?"

Jackson turned around. "Huh? Oh yeah I'm fine. Just... observing the scenery."

Howard nodded. He took a sip from his Manly Coffee drink, and set it back in its rightful cup holder next to him.

"Hey Dan," Davy went again, "if you like hearing about surgeries while you eat, don't say anything!"

Jackson just rolled his eyes but Howard sighed and said: "Davy, stop asking Dan stupid questions while he's sleeping."

Silence. Then: "I'm not asking him questions, Howard, gosh. I simply making statements and seeing if he denies them or not."

Howard shook his head. Oh well. He was diminishing again. Howard kept on driving and used his need to focus on the road as an excuse to not go any further with Davy.

"So Dan, if like smelling other people, don't say anything..."

" – oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling –"

"Hey, uh Andy –"

" – oh my darling... Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling –"

"Andy."

"– oh my dar – oh what?"

Tyler bit his lip. "Could you stop singing?"

Sheriff Andy looked at Tyler, as if he had offended him greatly. "You don't like my singing?"

Tyler looked at Trevor, unsure. Trevor just shrugged. "Well, no but... it's just you've been singing for two hours straight now. And you don't even go on to the next verse! It's just 'Oh my darling' the whole time. You could sing something else though," he added.

The speed of the truck slowed down slightly as Andy turned around to hear the suggestion. "Like what?"

"Hound Dog," Trevor offered.

Andy thought for a moment. "I got a bunch of Old Country westerns."

The boys made brief, skeptical eye contact. There was no need to speak.

"Uh, don't you know any other songs?" Trevor asked, having the slightest hope of the possibility that he did.

Sheriff Andy rubbed his chin. "Hmmm, let me think. Well, I know She'll be coming around the mountain."

Tyler piped up. "Oh, I know that one!"
Trevor and Sean slapped their foreheads.

Sheriff Andy grinned. "You do? Well, c'mon let's sing the rest of the way!"

He cleared his throat.

"She'll be coming around the mountain when she comes, she'll be coming around the mountain when she comes..."

So went Sheriff Andy as he and his company of one happy Boy Scout and two annoyed Boy Scouts made their way to their campsite.

Howard tried to concentrate on the road, but he could hardly make out anything on account of the light fading away. Plus, the kids were being idiots again.

A big purple balloon filled up with Dan's air and then was let go. As it flew around the inside of the car (spilling Howard's Mainly Coffee drink all over his shoes) it let out a noise equivalent to that of someone cutting the cheese. Back in the back the scouts laughed.

"Guys! Hey guys! Cut that out – will you? Here I'm trying to drive, and you guys are just screwing around."

"But Howard," Jackson complained, "this is so boring. Why can't we just go home?" He eagerly wanted to be at home with his video games and not here; mostly because he was not in charge here.

"Yeah," Dan and Davy retorted together. Davy continued. "Why not Howard? I mean it's hopeless. We'll never find our campground." Then he laughed a stupid laugh.

Howard eyed the impudent Davy in his rearview mirror. He had been making inappropriate jokes and asking idiotic questions the whole way down here. "Davy, just stop."

Davy's eyes flamed with anger. Why didn't any of them listen? "Howard look, ok it is dark out. And third: we don't know where the heck we are!"

Everyone seemed nervous at that statement.
"We're lost?"

"We're lost! Who says we're lost?"

"Davy. Howard how could you get us lost, can't you do anything right?"

Howard sighed. "Guys," he said weakly; and then, with a slight authority(it was all he could muster): "Guys! We're not lost. Davy, stop talking. We're not lost. Yes it is dark out, but we'll be able to find the camp. Don't worry guys." He took a sip of his Manly Coffee. "I got this." He looked ahead and saw he had caught up with Sheriff Andy's truck. He wondered what was going on in it.

Sheriff Andy was still singing She'll be coming around the mountain when Howard's van appeared in his rearview mirror. He stopped short on mountain, and glanced in it. " – mount- hey! Boys, we got the rest of the group behind us! They caught up to us!" The boys stirred and craned their necks behind them. Indeed, it was Howard. In the right side mirror Tyler was looking in he saw his Scoutmaster give a little wave. Davy came up, half a granola bar stuffed in his mouth, and began to wave furiously at them. Tyler saw Howard rolling his eyes and saying something to Davy. Davy sat back down. Tyler's eyes moved over to Jackson, who, as mentioned before, was sitting next to Howard.

Cold.

Tyler did not really like Jackson. He was okay, but he always got the feeling he was like some kind of explosive: very unstable. He knew Jackson wanted Trevor's leadership position. Ever since the votes had been cast and Trevor had won, he envied Trevor, and he yearned to be the Senior Patrol Leader. "Probably so he can boss us all around."

Sheriff Andy glanced at Tyler. "What'd you say?"
Tyler, unaware he had spoken, in a flustered state said, "Oh, uh, nothing."
"Whose bossing who around?"

Trevor leaned over the seat. "Oh are we talking about Jackson?" he half – joked with a big smile.

"No, it's nothing," Tyler told them.

Trevor hovered over the seat a second longer; then he shrugged his shoulders and went back to studying the wilderness as it flew past them. He felt comfortable in this truck. They were high off the ground, the seats were nice to sit on, and they were going to a campsite. In a way, he thought the journey was just as fun. It's not about where you end up, its how you get there he thought and made a mental note to jot that quote down on a piece of paper when he got home.

He and Tyler did a lot of writing.

"She'll be coming around the mountain when she comes, oh she'll be coming around the mountain when she comes –"
Good old Sheriff Andy. He loved him, but now he was thinking.

In the past he had written stories here and there, not really sure of his talent. Then he met Tyler and they shared their writing. Tyler and he both wrote humorous stories. Stories that would make kids laugh. Trevor enjoyed whenever someone would laugh at a part in his story. That meant he was doing something right.

Tyler was shyer about his work and only let Trevor and a few other close friends read his work. He had a couple good ones and Trevor respected his more slow prose; and his work was less descriptive, as he focused more on the thoughts the characters think and the knowledge of good and evil that goes along with it.

Trevor had a faster, descriptive prose. He knew how to get a reader hooked with the first line. Tyler was not very good with hooking the reader (just like he wasn't any good at hooking a fish in real life, his father had to do it for him, which was embarrassing) but if you waited his stories would always pick up and end with a funny and unexpected ending.

They had been churning out short stories by the half-dozen for almost six months when they hit a brick wall. All at once they had no more ideas. Both of them were used up. Trevor would try to start a story, but with his involvement with the school play and school and church, he just never had any time to finish one. Tyler was always running, either with Track or Cross Country, and was too tired to write. Both of them, it appeared, had writer's block. They just did not know what to write about anymore. Trevor thought about all of his numerous short stories (the school play that ended in a brawl; a group of friends living their lives out for a whole year; the band teacher story, etc...) and realized, as he gazed out the window of Andy's truck, that they all had been real events in his life. Of course he had changed the names, and had not written exactly what had happened; he had altered some of it to fit the way he wanted it. In the end though, it was real life experiences that gave him ideas. Life, not TV shows, or magazines, or old classic movies, but life, his life, his friends, his peers, his school... even his Boy Scout troop. They all supplied his creative mind with ideas. They were like his fuel station. Oh, you don't know what to write about? Just go hang out with your friends on Saturday all day and write about that – provided you make some changes or stretch the truth a little. A good story told is never told exactly how it happened.

But that' s the thing... nothing has happened. I haven't done anything. Nothing has happened that's worth writing about. He bit his lip. Maybe this weekend would supply him and Tyler with some new material. Heaven knew they needed it.

They were out.

Trevor continued with his looking out the window. Howard was right behind them, driving his van, and sipping his Manly Coffee.

When it happened, it happened as quick a bullet out a gun. Sheriff Andy had stopped signing twenty minutes ago, and now all was silent, except that Sean thought he could still hear the ghost of Sheriff Andy's voice going She'll be coming around the mountain when she comes, oh she'll be coming.... Howard was still right behind them. "Hey, Andy, since you're done singing and everything," Sean began casually, "why don't you turn the radio on." Trevor and Tyler both looked at him hopefully. They were all tired of listening to Sheriff Andy sing his songs. After all they were out of date, and they had been traveling for hours now.

Sheriff Andy bit his lip. Adjusting his big cowboy hat, he sighed a small sigh. "Well I guess so." The boys felt relived. Finally, they could listen to some good music.

Sherriff Andy bent over to turn the radio on. "What station you boys want it on?"

All at once answers were shot out like ammo out of a loaded gun.

"KRB."

"102.5."

"94.7"

All three were shouting at once, thinking their pick was better than the others.

Sheriff Andy was getting annoyed. He licked his lips, his hand still on the dial. "So what station you boys want it on?"

"-no, no that one only plays old music-"

"Hey, old music is better than the crap they have today-"
"-the 90s are all that," Trevor informed.

They continued on with their arguing.

It's not a girl, gentlemen, it's a radio Andy thought to himself.

Sean was explaining that he wanted to listen to newer songs. Tyler wanted to listen to some oldies station, while Trevor was scolding them that they were both wrong, and the 90s were all that.

Sheriff Andy rolled his eyes.

He turned around in his seat to face them. Howard was still following behind. "The station boys! What station do you want it on?"

"-while the 80s didn't have it the 90s were -"

" – oh my gosh! Andy! Look out!"

Due to his shouting and the urgency in his voice, Andy heeded Tyler and spun around.

He saw a deer.

A deer was crossing the road and they were going to hit it, they were going to hit it.

He slammed on the breaks. Behind him, Howard was telling Davy to stop acting like Jackson was a demon, and as he was doing this the van hit the trailer that was being hauled by Andy's truck. It hit it so hard that it unhooked and was pushed off to the left, rolling away. Howard was madly grasping the steering wheel, the van going madly out of control, trying to straighten their course out. How had Andy's truck gotten so close?

Andy's truck, now trailerless, had hit the deer, and now was off the road. It smashed into the guard rail and toppled over the side. Its engine could be heard going verrrrrrrrrrr as it disappeared. Howard's van did a 180 degree spin and then it too, took a dive over the ledge, back bumper first, and Howard felt gravity sucking them down and his heart was beating oh way too fast –

They left the ground and were free falling. Then they hit something – hard, very hard – and were rolling down the hill. Everyone in the van was screaming and shouting out things; they all saw the world now as one big spinning wheel. And the wheel kept on spinning, and spinning, the van rolling and rolling down; and then they were free falling and again and they hit more ground – not as steep this time – but steep enough that they still kept on rolling. Jackson was becoming so dizzy. His life was spinning away; funny thing though, the only thing he thought of in this life or death situation was how he would never get to be Senior Patrol Leader. He did not mourn of death or of not seeing his family, but he did mourn the inevitable truth: if he died, he would die not in charge; Trevor would die having been in charge. Jackson continued to scream, but not out of terror like the rest of them did. He screamed out of pure envy.

And then, as he screamed a different scream than the rest of them, the van's rolling became slower. Slower, it slid down farther, and then it just stopped with it making impact with a tree.

Andy's truck lay about twenty feet away, near a pile of blueberry bushes.

And that is how Troop 307 toppled over the ledge and became wanderers in the wilderness, and whether or not they return to civilization remains to be seen.