The interloper who had invaded my sanctuary turned and looked at me as I hurried towards where he stood. “Hey man, what’s going on?” he called to me as he continued to reel in my fishing line.
“What are you doing with my gear?” I angrily asked.
“Nothin’ man, relax, I saw the bobber jumping up and down so I thought I’d help you out by reeling in the fish. I saw you were busy over at your camp site. You know, you can’t camp here right? The game wardens will arrest you if they catch you.”
“I wasn’t planning on getting caught.” I said defensively as the interloper pulled a three pound bass out of the water with my rod and reel.
The boy with the fish, my fish, held the flopping, twisting creature out for me to see. “It’s a nice one.” He commented and then added “Names Kevin but everyone calls me Kev.”
I reached out and grabbed the fish, pulled out my needle nose pliers from my back pocket and gave the fish a good thump on the head, right between the eyes. The fish stopped moving and I then used the pliers to pull the hook out of its mouth. “I’m Skip, and everyone calls me Skip. Thanks for reeling in my lunch.” I said. I was still upset with Kevin; I had always been told you never touch another man’s fishing line, even if it meant losing the catch. Apparently Kevin didn’t know this rule or he chose to ignore it.
“Wait man, you gonna eat that thing?” He asked me.
“Yeah,” I replied as I stood up and headed over to my campsite. “I don’t see why not. There’s no marks on it and I don’t see any signs saying I can’t.”
Kevin followed. “Yeah but, I mean, the smell of your fire and the fish cooking…”
I turned and looked at him “What?”
“It might attract animals and stuff. There’s supposed to be bears and shit in these woods. Besides, no one ever camps here and if the Rangers catch you they’ll throw you in juvie.”
We stood there facing each other, I was new to the area and clearly Kevin had been here for a while. Although I had never seen him and I didn’t think he lived in my neighborhood I had to at least try and listen to what he was saying, but I couldn’t appear to be wimp. “Look Kevin, my family and I moved here almost a year ago and I’ve been traipsing through these woods since that day. I’ve yet to see a Ranger, let alone any signs of one. Not on the fire road, not in the fire towers and not at this pond. Hell, if they had been around here they would have left some sign. By since there is no sign of them, nor are there any tire tracks on the fire road, I’d say I’m pretty safe.”
“What about the animals?”
“What about them? If I see a rabbit, I’ll shoot it and eat it. If I see a bear, well I’ll swim into the middle of the pond and wait until he leaves.” I said, my voice full of as much confidence as I could muster. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got to gut and scale my lunch before the flies get here.” I turned and finished my walk to my fire pit. I knelt down and started to clean my fish.
Just as I had finished gutting the fish Kevin sat down on the other side of the fire from me. “You really aint scared?” he asked.
“Nope.” I answered as I cut off the head of the fish. “I’ve seen no reason to be.” I set Mr. Lunch in my frying pan and pulled out a small bottle of vegetable oil from my back pack and poured it on the fish and in the pan, then I added some salt and pepper and set my lunch on the steel cooking grate over the fire. Within minutes the smell had my stomach rumbling.
“That sure smells good.” Kevin said. I looked at him, his eyes were wide and he was smacking his lips.
“You want some?”
“Sure, if you don’t mind. I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”
“Ok. Why don’t you go get my tackle box while I finish cooking it and then we will eat.”
Kevin stood up and headed to where we had left the fishing gear. As he walked away I wasn’t sure I liked him or if we’d even be friends but I was lonely and having someone to talk to always helped pass the time. By the time he had returned with my tackle box I had convinced myself that he could hang out with me until he left, and then I was going to pack up my gear and find another place to camp. A more secluded place.
As he set the tackle box down next to the tent he said “Man, that fish smells even better. Is it done yet?”
“Almost ready, you don’t camp much do you?”
“Nah, we live out here in the country but the only camping we do is in the back yard. My parents would freak if I came out here for a night. Don’t your parents care?”
“Don’t really know. Truth is, I really haven’t seen much of them since we moved here. My mom works in Green Bay and her husband works in Crivitz. They leave early in the morning and come home late at night.”
“Don’t you have any brothers or sisters?”
“Three sisters, but they are off doing their own thing.” I said as I scooped the fish out of the frying pan and set it on a plate. “I’ve only got one plate hope you don’t mind sharing it. I didn’t really plan on having company.”
“I don’t mind.”
“And I only have one fork so we have to share that too. You can eat first.” I said as I poured some of the water from the pot into the pan so I could clean once it cooled off a bit.
Kevin took the plate and fork and shoved some of the fish into his mouth “Hottohohohohhotttt.” He yelled with a mouth full of fish.
I couldn’t help but laugh at him. His mouth was open, and bits of fish had fallen onto his chin and shirt as he tried cooling his mouth down by fanning a hand in front of his face. “You have to blow on it. I just finished cooking it. Damn, aint you ever eaten at a campfire before?”
I went into my tent and grabbed my canteen of water and walked back over to Kevin, I opened it up and handed it to him. “Don’t drink it all, just a few sips, it’s all the fresh water I have until I boil some more.” Kevin took the canteen and took some sips and handed the tin can back to me.
“Thanks, you could have warned me it was going to be hot.”
“Man, it just came off the fire, what made you think it was going to be cool?”
I screwed the top back on my canteen and put it away. As I sat down I saw Kevin was blowing on the fish trying to cool it down. “You come out here often?” I asked.
Kevin looked up at me over a forkful of fish “Not really, I was bored and all my buddies are in Green Bay today, so I went for a walk and ended up here. What about you? Do you come here a lot?”
“Nah, only a dozen or so times.” I lied for no reason and then added “But this is my first time camping out here.” As if my admitted truth would cancel out the blatant lie I had just told. “When do you have to be home?” I asked trying to change the subject.
“Around three or three-thirty, my folks like me to be home for dinner and in by dark, unless I’m spending the night in the backyard or at one of my friend’s house.” He answered and handed me the plate with the half eaten fish on it.
I dug into the fish slowly, picking out bones and throwing them into the fire. Kevin picked up a stick and poked the embers and burning logs a bit causing the flames to rise. When I finished eating I took my plate and skillet to the pond and cleaned them out. Kevin followed me and watched everything I did.
“How did you learn to do all this stuff?” He asked me as we walked back to the tent.
“I was in the boy scouts when I was younger. We went camping a lot and when I stopped going to the meetings, me and my buddies would camp out at some of the parks in Green Bay.”
“They let you camp in public parks?”
“No one let us do anything, we just did it.”
“Oh, that’s cool. Say, you wouldn’t mind if I went home and got some fishing gear and came back and hung out some more would you?”
“Nah, I guess it’s cool. It’s not like I have any plans or anything.”
“Cool, I’ll be back in a bit then.” He said and took off towards the other side of the pond.