Stephen’s breath hung in the air, white in the early morning sunlight filtering through fresh fog that tangled in the low brambles of the Virginia woods. He hunkered alongside his topographical map, head down, butt planted in the grass. This orienteering challenge was his chance to do what a real Marine can do. His chin was propped on one bent knee that jutted out like a pale, bald mountaintop from his blue jean shorts. He wore his favorite t-shirt, marine drab with a scarlet-red Marine globe and anchor emblazoned on the front. Watching Jimmy from the corner of his eye, Stephen pondered their next move. Get it right. Semper Fi.
Jimmy looked like a deflated balloon as he stood next to Stephen. “We’re lost? Oh man. I can’t—”
Stephen cut him off quickly. His head wobbled on top of his knee as he muttered, “Nope, we’re not,” without lifting his gaze from the map. “I got this.” And Dad is watching.
“We ain’t?” Jimmy sounded hopeful. His eyes scrunched as he focused hard, trying to see the map folded to their location. “I can’t lose. My Dad’ll kill me.”
“Stop. Alright?” Stephen mustered all the manliness of his twelve years and hoped his voice sounded more confident than he felt. He stole a quick glance toward the shadows. The camo-clad figure that followed the boys’ every move through the woods watched. Stephen tried not to look in that direction. Dad’s watching. He’s counting on you.
“They’re struggling, too.” His head bounced on his knee as he talked. “Look.” His eye, against his will, darted back to the shadow as he pointed to the map with a grubby index finger. “Where the lines come real close,” he said, peering through the blond hair that hung over his eyes. “Remember?”
The map was a swirl of long, snaky black lines that defined the hills and cliffs of the Virginia woods in amoeba-like, concentric shapes. It was mostly green but showed a creek as a thin blue line through the center that served as a quick reference point for their location. Jimmy looked closely to see if he could locate the small clearing surrounded by a grove of pine trees in which they had stopped.
“This is cool.” Jimmy looked away from the map to check out the small circle of Christmas trees. “We could use this spot.”
“This is us.” Stephen traced the lines with his finger and glanced at Jimmy once again to be sure he was watching. “See the lines getting closer? The closer, the steeper.”
Jimmy’s head bobbed in agreement. “Yep.”
“Remember?” Stephen asked, recalling the briefing before they left the starting point. “You’re three years older than him,” his Dad had told him. Be a leader.
“We could use this spot.”
“Yeah,” Stephen agreed, taking a quick look around the clearing. “I like. So—” he began, when Jimmy cut him off.
“So,” Jimmy jumped in, “these curves are the steep part, right here.” He quickly pointed down the hill and grinned, looking intently at Stephen. “Right?”
We’re losing time. Take a breath and be calm, he reminded himself. Just like Dad said. “Okay. That’s north.” He pointed to the edge of the map and turned the compass dial so that N aligned with the red arrow. Stephen felt that queasy feeling creep into his stomach. Marines get it done. You want to be a Marine, then do this.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish