It was a huge lake. And it twisted around in constant inlets and islands. Jerry had no idea of where the end of it was… well…he’d seen it on maps so he kind of knew. The other end of the lake was in another province. But he couldn’t see it. He knew it was off to the east somewhere, but he didn’t know where.
Also, everything was covered in forests, so when Jerry looked across the lake, all he saw was trees and water. He couldn’t even tell islands from the shores of the lake. But he wasn’t trying to get anywhere, and he liked trees and water, so it wasn’t a problem.
Jerry was out there by himself. He sat looking out over the lake most days. He knew that an onlooker would just think he was some crazy guy and wonder what he was doing there. But that didn’t bother him too much. And, besides, there weren’t any onlookers, so there was no point in worrying about their opinions.
As he was looking out at the lake one day, a bottle washed up on shore. Jerry looked around a couple of times as if the bottle were a secret that he didn’t want other people to know about. Once he determined that the coast was clear, he went down and picked the bottle up.
Like in some old sea tale, the bottle had a note inside. At first, Jerry tried to get his fingers far enough inside the bottle to pull the message out, but that didn’t work. Eventually, he realized that the easier thing to do was just break the bottle. It wasn’t a precious artifact or anything, so there was no problem with just breaking the thing.
So that’s what he did. There was a large rock beside the water, and he broke the bottle against it. It actually took him a couple of tries, since he was still trying to be delicate. He was worried that the flying glass was going to cut him.
Even when the thing was broken, he was still careful. He extracted the note from the broken glass using two fingers, and then he shook it diligently to get any small shards off before he pulled it open.
Once he could read the message, he found it terribly uninformative. It just asked for help. One word. “Help,” that’s it. It gave no details at all. Where or anything else. “When” would also have been useful. The bottle might have been floating around in the lake for years, so who knew how long ago it was when the writer had actually needed help.
In spite of how useless the note actually was, Jerry found himself surprisingly attached to it. At first, he just tucked it into a pocket, but he found himself slipping it under his camp pillow that night.
The day after the note arrived, a family pulled into the campground. They seemed to have spared no expense on camping. Jerry kept wondering when they’d run out of stuff, but they just kept pulling a seemingly endless array of equipment from the back of their SUV. They had a huge tent, some kind of propane powered cooking station, and a rowboat strapped on top of the SUV.
Jerry decided almost immediately that he didn’t like them. They had too much stuff. It wasn’t really camping if you brought too much stuff with you.
Though he did find the boat intriguing. Jerry knew that if he wanted to explore the lake at all, he was going to need a boat. Partly, he actually wanted to help the person who had written the note, but he’d also been fantasizing about disappearing into the forest since he was a kid. The thought of wandering away came back to him. He knew that the idea was ridiculous, and he did his best to put the thought away. It wasn’t remotely realistic.
So, he put it away, and focused on the intrusion of the family onto his solace. They were noisy, as is often the way with families. They were quiet at night, but he was woken up the next morning by the sound of kids yelling at each other. Apparently, the sister had taken a rock that the brother had thought was his alone.
Before he’d even eaten, Jerry left on a hike through the forest. The idea was to get far enough away to not hear the kids anymore. It kind of worked, but even after an hour or so of walking, he could still hear voices from the beach. He thought he could hear the lower voices of the father and mother joining in now. The voices were much quieter than they had been, but he could still hear them.
Even with the remote background sounds from the beach, Jerry decided that he would sit down and rest. And while he sat, he decided on a plan to leave. He knew that it was insane and ridiculous, but he also decided that he just didn’t care.
And once he’d decided, he felt much more relaxed about the kids and the noise. Kids make noise, and it’s not like this was the backcountry or something. It might have been the note and the noise that had spurred him to think about it, but it had been his long-standing wish to leave that had really brought on the decision.
That night after the sun had gone down, he packed up all his stuff in the dark. Taking down a tent without light was a pain, but he figured it was necessary. The family had used the boat that day, so it was just pulled up on the beach. Which made it really easy to take. It wasn’t attached to anything, and he could just lift it up and carry it further down the beach so they wouldn’t wake up and hear him. He felt bad about stealing their boat, but it had to be done.
When he’d put the boat down, he went and grabbed his camping stuff and packed it all into the boat. Then he pushed the boat into the water and jumped on board. He could still feel the sand touching the bottom of the craft, so he used an oar to shove himself further into the water until he was floating properly.
Apparently, the day had been enough to wear out the family, which was lucky for Jerry. He kept dreading that one of them would come outside while he was stealing their boat, but no one did. Once he’d gotten far enough from shore, he grabbed the other oar and started rowing quietly. He didn’t know where he was going, but he wanted to get far enough away that they wouldn’t know where he was when they woke up in the morning.
He’d been rowing for about an hour, when he saw, in the moonlight, a kind of inlet that he could use to hide from the family when it got to be daylight. He rowed into the inlet, and a segment of the land came down between him and the campsite. Once he was confident that he was out of sight from the campground, he relaxed, and even tried to make himself comfortable to wait until daylight.
The sun came up around six, and there was enough light for him to start rowing again. The inlet was actually just another part of the lake, and what he’d taken for the shore in the night, was actually a narrow opening between the forests on either side of the lake.
He started wondering what he was going to do when his food ran out, but he knew that he had another week of food packed, and that it wasn’t worth worrying about it yet. It had been clear from the start that this was a ridiculous thing to do. It’s not like these kinds of worries were coming out of the blue. So, he just smiled and started rowing in the direction of the opening.