I love camping, so I wrote a short story (in the form of an instruction manual) about it.
Step One: Pack matches, a tent, sleeping bags, pads, pillows, snacks, beer, camera, books, flashlights, water, knives, and then proceed to follow directions from printed maps, a GPS, and a passenger’s memory of “shortcuts” from five years ago.
If you make a wrong turn, proceed to Step Two.
If you miraculously make all the right turns, proceed to Step Four.
Step Two: Following one of several misleading directions, you find yourself in a condo development several miles off course. Find the nearest dirt road back to the freeway.
If you make it back to the freeway, proceed to Step Four.
If you find yourself in a deserted farm with fifteen scarecrows all facing you, proceed to Step Fifteen.
If you stop and ask for directions, proceed to Step Three.
Step Three: After finding the right directions back to the freeway, having asked between one and thirteen grizzled old farmers holding shotguns and potted daisies, you get back on track two hours late but determined nevertheless. Proceed to Step Four.
Step Four: You pull into the campsite, pay the grizzled old camp director holding a shotgun and a potted daisy, and proceed to set up the camping equipment.
If the tent you brought is not broken, proceed to Step Seven.
If the tent you brought is broken, proceed to Step Five.
Step Five: Use everything in your car to fix the tent (clamps, chairs, knives, potted daisies, etc.). Proceed to Step Six.
Step Six: After fixing the tent, you find yourselves exhausted and take a nap. Missing an hour of daylight, you wake up and realize
that someone forgot the bug spray and you are surrounded by bees (proceed to Step Sixteen), or
that you all brought and used bug spray but it inevitably failed and you are nevertheless surrounded by bees (proceed to Step Seven).
Step Seven: You set up all camping equipment, including a bee trap fashioned from a plate of syrup well away from your tent, and you proceed to make a campfire.
If you succeed on the first try, proceed to Step Ten.
If you fail on the first try, proceed to Step Eight.
Step Eight: Nobody can get the fire started.
If you put your heads together and manage to build a successful fire using old copies of Dan Brown novels, proceed to Step Ten.
If you insist on starting the fire the way you saw that survivalist on TV do it involving a shoelace and several ounces of beer, inevitably failing, proceed to Step Nine.
Step Nine: You all give up and decide to camp without a fire, end up freezing, and drink what little alcohol is left for warmth. Proceed to Step Sixteen.
Step Ten: The tent is up, the fire is going, and you are all sitting comfortably in a circle making s’mores and drinking frosty cold beers. You lean back, gaze up at the stars, and
realize that you are insignificant but stranded beautifully on a fragile planet, and that it is your responsibility to care for your world (proceed to Step Eighteen), or
realize that you are insignificant, which induces an existential crisis causing increased alcohol consumption (proceed to Step Nineteen), or
fall backward in your chairs and wonder why you went camping in the first place (proceed to Step Eleven).
Step Eleven: Annoyed at camping in general, you all pull out your phones to see which celebrities have started dating each other, but discover there is no service in the woods.
If this frustrates you, proceed to Step Twelve.
If you return to toasting marshmallows, proceed to Step Thirteen.
Step Twelve: Your unquenchable desire for modern technology drives you to wander into the woods holding your smartphones into the air hoping to find a signal. Proceed to Step Seventeen.
Step Thirteen: Somebody pulls out a harmonica and plays a soulful rendition of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.” Proceed to Step Fourteen.
Step Fourteen: You realize that a desire for luxury is the last chain enslaving humankind to capitalism, and that if we all lived a minimalist’s life together in a commune and devoted ourselves to art and human companionship, the corporations would all go extinct and we would open up the doors to Heaven on Earth. Proceed to Step Eighteen.
Step Fifteen: Now stuck countless miles from any sign of human life, you all get out of the car and proceed to argue. Proceed to Step Sixteen.
Step Sixteen: Furious at one another for your collective insensitivities, self-centeredness, and refusal to accept responsibility for your mistakes, you use all the camping equipment to kill each other. Proceed to Step Seventeen.
Step Seventeen: You are all eaten by coyotes. The End.
Step Eighteen: After waking up to the sound of birds and running water the next day, you feel spiritually and socially invigorated and return to the plastic confines of civilization with a renewed sense of meaning and a deeper understanding of the divine, determined to be a better person to the world as a whole. You then sell all the pointless crap you’ve spent decades accumulating, give the money to charity, and finally start playing music again. The End.
Step Nineteen: Having had too much to drink, you sob about the terrible state of the world, the wars, the power that big business has over you, how expendable you are in the scheme of things, the fact that Unfriended was ever produced in the first place, and wander around the campground despondent and terrified.
When the camp director finds you, he
uses his shotgun to “motivate” you back into your tent for a night of silent introspection (proceed to Step Eighteen), or he
uses his shotgun to “motivate” you out of the campground entirely (proceed to Step Seventeen), or he
kindly offers you bread, water, and painkillers, then proceeds to teach you about Zen Buddhism, which you diligently listen to as long as drunk people can before falling asleep (Proceed to Step Eighteen).
For more information on camping, consult your nearest grizzled old farmer.
Copyright Keene Short, 2015