Authors: Clay McLeod Chapman
Smile graphic Â© 2015 Rachna Batra
Background image Â© Shutterstock / Sakarin Sawasdinaka
Cover design by Sammy Yuen and Joann Hill
Text copyright Â© 2015 by Clay McLeod Chapman
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“Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?”
by Ray Bradbury
(Selected excerpts from the personal journal of
Spencer Austin Pendleton.)
on my mountain
in my woods
that people have passed without ever knowing that
I am here
My Side of the Mountain
by Jean Craighead George
(and Spencer Pendleton)
By the power vested in me by Mother Nature, I am hereby granting myself emancipation from my parents.
Whatever life I had beyond these woods is officially over.
I'm on my own now.
Peashooter was right about one thing: our families sold us out. He lured everybody's parents into a trapâonly, guess what? My mom and pop-sicle couldn't even give a
cannibal's ass about me enough to take the bait in the first place. I'll spare them the hassle of pretending to care.
I'm pulling a Thoreau, folks. Time to go native.
Sayonara, city lifeâhello, wilderness
Nobody outside the Tribe knows this cave exists. They lived in this limestone grotto for nearly six months. Since they're back home with their parentsâthanks to, ahem, moiâthis
place is all mine now.
Chez Pendleton. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?
Cave sweet cave.
When the mosquitoes aren't feasting on my flesh and the bats aren't dropping guacamole guano on my shoulders, this dank dungeon can be pretty picturesqueâmy own cozy
Care to take a little tour?
It might not look like much from the outside, but believe me, it's very spacious once you crawl in. Six thousand square feet. High ceilings. All natural floors. Those calcium carbonate
chandeliers are completely original. They date all the way back to when this cave was first formed in the Ice Age. You just can't find stalactites like that these days. And you simply
can't beat the plumbing. There's running water, twenty-four-sevenâthough the metallic aftertaste makes my tongue feel like I'm sucking nickels.
Not to mention, I've got my very own personal Library of the Dead.
Peashooter stocked his hovel with every possible novel he could get his hands on, sorted according to subject matter. I'm surrounded by stacks of abandoned paperbacks, their pages curled
and contorted from the damp air. Each pile serves a particular reading niche.
Fantasy has its own stack.
Cookbooks, how-to books.
There is even a stalagmite of dystopian fiction. The column ascends to the ceiling with works such as
Brave New World
Another lit pillar tucked at the back of the cave specializes in kids surviving the wildernessâ
My Side of the Mountain, Hatchet
The Swiss Family Robinson
What better way to learn how to rough it in the woods than to read about those characters who've already done it?
There isn't much to do in here but read by candlelight, anyhow. I could spend the next thirty years buried with these books, chewing through to the very core of each and every last one of
I'm never going above ground again.
WHAT DO I HAVE?
â¢ One box of soggy wooden matches.
â¢ One dozen candles, partially melted.
â¢ One bag of bread, slightly moldy.
â¢ A stash of expired vending machine snacksâTwinkies, Ho Hos, Ding Dongsâcorn starched into existence circa nineteen seventy-four, preserved to processed food perfection.
â¢ Three musty blankets and six pillows, damp, sans pillowcases.
â¢ Two fishing polesâone with line, the other without.
â¢ One dozen oxidized batteries, mostly dead.
WHAT DO I NEED?
â¢ Learn how to start a fire. Stay warm, stay dry.
â¢ Learn how to fish.
Last time I looked at a calendar, it was the beginning of July. It's bound to be somewhere in the middle of the month by now. Time was tossed right out the window when the Tribe overthrew
Camp New Leaf. Even that feels like a lifetime ago.
A faded vine of Peashooter's graffiti still stretches along the cave's ceilingâ
I NEVER FOUND A COMPANION THAT WAS SO COMPANIONABLE AS SOLITUDE
. Words to
live by, courtesy of Thoreau.
Nobody would call the Tribe great interior decorators, but they still gave this place a nice personal touch. There is a shrine to their parentsâall the candid snapshots of younger versions
of themselves with their families. Every so often, I get to thinking about the Tribe reuniting with their parents. I wonder how they're getting along back at home, now that they have
reentered the real world again.
Why didn't my parents come for me? How could they just abandon me like that? I'm not some tennis ball. They can't keep volleying me back and forth between each other like this
I'm their son.
I'm nobody's son now.
I left the Tribe's photos where they were, untouched. See how happy they were as kids? Before their parents completely messed them all up?
OkayâI lied. I took one pic for myself. Sully's photo is folded in my back pocket. She follows me wherever I go. Out here, it's good to have someone to talk to. Even if she is
just a photograph.
Someone forgot to turn the tap off. I keep hearing the persistent plink of water from deeper inside the cave, as if a kitchen sink were drippingâ
Almost sounds like someone's crying.
I swore I heard voices echoing through the woods today.
Some even called out for me. “
” The trees shuddered at the sound of my name. “
Their voices had a deceptive tenor. They sounded like they were concerned, but I wasn't falling for it.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twiceâwell
You know how it goes.
The only time anyone ever says my name out loud these days is because I've done something wrong. It's as if my very name naturally phonates fury:
For a while, those voices sounded awfully close. Like, right-outside-my-cave close. About-to-be-breathing-down-my-neck close.
I ducked behind a literary stalactite, just in case they found the cave's entrance. Books toppled over, their soft pages sounding like bat wings echoing throughout the
I figured I was done for. Whoever was out there would drag me back home and force me toâ
The voices faded. They missed me. Missed me! Ha! Take that, humanity! I slipped through civilization's fingers once again! Eat it!
Now I really am on my own.
I'm eight. I'm running away from home. I've stuffed enough clothes into a suitcase to last a week. I've informed Mom that I am officially flying the coop
and there's nothing she can do to stop me.
Mom nods and says, “Dinner will be ready around seven.”
I hit the road with visions of sticking my thumb out and hitching a ride to Alaska. Or hopping on a freight train across the country. Or joining the circus. Anything to take me away from
I'll rough it in the wilderness. I'll live off of nuts and berries. I'll make my own bow and arrow from a tree branch, with a bowstring made from the sinew of a deer that
I'll personally hunt and gut all by myself. I'll chat with the birds and they'll fill me in on the best spots to set up camp and all the primo fishing holes.
And eeeeeeeeverybody back at home will miss me. How sorry my family will be when I was gone. They'll stay up for hours at night, in tears, rolling around in bed, pulling their hair out,
wishing they had only been nicer to me when they'd had the chance.
“Why oh why did you forsake us, Spencer?” They'll all wail. “Ohâhow can we ever live with ourselves now? Come back to us! Pleeease!”