"NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!" My anguished scream cut through the still morning air.
There was a muffled movement in the tent next to mine, and the head of Kevin Richardson poked through the tent door, all his hair standing up. "Any problems, Lily?" he asked sleepily.
"Uh, no," I said quickly. "No problems at all." This was our second day in a week long camping trip to Algonquin Park, in Ontario. I had forgotten my precious java back at my house, and was already feeling the strain.
Kevin nodded, and withdrew his head back into the tent. I felt bad about waking him up so early. It was only five in the morning, but then my coffee-deprived grumpiness began to kick in, and I debated whether or not start banging the pots and pans together. Just for spite.
I finally decided not to, and started back to bed. I went up to the tent, fumbled with the door's zipper, and crawled in. As I put my hand on something warm, soft and squishy, I realised suddenly that this was not my tent.
I started screaming, and in my haste to get out, I fell into the tent wall, snapping a pole. The tent suddenly collapsed, falling in on itself.
Brian Littrell, AJ McLean, and Nick Carter woke up suddenly to find out they were wrapped in yards of nylon cloth, trapped with a screaming woman, thrashing around.
"What the hell?!" cried Kevin, poking his head out of the other tent along with his tentmate Howie Dorough.
I finally managed to disentangle from myself from the tent, and lay on the ground, gasping for breath.
"What happened?" asked sleepy Howie, his hair also standing on end. Meanwhile, Kevin got out, and pulled the remains of the tent off his three bandmates.
"Wah! Person! Tent! Screaming!" yelled Nick, incoherently.
Kevin patted him on the back absentmindly. "There, there, Nick," he said. "It's all over now."
"There, I think I fixed it." I said triumphantly, showing them the repaired pole plus duct tape.
"Is that a stick?" asked Brian suspiciously.
"Uh...yeah. You know, a splint." I replied, but Brian still seemed sceptical.
"It'll be hard to pack, but I guess we can manage." said Kevin, trying to stuff the pole and stick into his backpack.
"Is that all the equipment?" I asked, getting my own pack together.
"Yep," Howie replied.
"Then let's go," I said. "The canoe rental shop is about three hours from here, so we should try and get there before the morning rush."
The guys all nodded, and we started on our way. About an hour into the trip, the beautiful weather began to show signs of clouding over, and we all hurried to get to the canoe rental shack as fast as we could to beat the rain. Luckily, we reached it just as it started spitting, and took shelter inside.
"Hey there, can I help y'all?" said the owner, a balding over-weight man of about forty.
"We'd like to rent a canoe!" Nick burst out.
"Well, this bein' a canoe rental place and all, we don't get much request for that sorta thing, but sure, Ah guess so," the man drawled bemusedly. The five guys immediately spread out to investigate the canoes, leaving me to talk business with the owner.
After settling on specific canoes [and more importantly, a specific price], the conversation died, so I decided to start it up again by asking a question that had been on my mind since the beginning of the trip: "Do you have any coffee?"
"Don't reckon Ah do," he said slowly.
"Oh." I said. "That's too bad. By the way, how did you end up in Canada? You don't sound Canadian."
"Ah don't really know. All Ah remember is that Ah went drinkin' with my buddies one night, then woke up in Toronto wearing only a pair of socks, and a strange tattoo."
"Ah," I said, shuddering. That was way more than I wanted to know. Off at the other end of the store, I heard someone yell: "Nick, stop drumming on the canoes with the paddles!" and immediately seized it as a great excuse to get away from the owner, who was beginning to creep me out.
"Guys! We're ready to go!" I called out. "We're taking the red one and the blue one."
"It's still kind of raining out," noted Kevin. "Maybe I should ask the owner if we can wait out the rain."
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," I said in a whisper. "He might want to show you his tattoo. Besides, it's not raining that hard anyway."
"I guess you're right," Kevin admitted. "Okay, let's get going."
The rain let up as if by magic the moment we put our paddles in the water and set off for our island. We had decided when we planned the vacation to go somewhere completely isolated. We found this small island in the middle of the lake, and decided that it was the place to be. It was an half an hour trip by canoe, but it would be well worth it. The island was covered with dense forest, and cris-crossed with rivers, making for great hikes and canoe trips.
Kevin, Howie and I were in one canoe with all the perishables, since we had unanimously decided that Nick wasn't to be trusted. He had been too enthusiastic about canoeing, and we feared something happening. Something BAD. [Of course, we didn't tell him this. We just...decided, yeah, that's it.]
We were most of the way to the island when we heard some shouting coming from the other canoe. It was what we feared most. Nick was becoming...hyper.
"Dear God, no," said Kevin. We strained to hear the conversation:
"Can you stand up in a canoe?" Nick was asking AJ.
"No, I don't think so," AJ replied.
"Are you sure?"
"I bet I can stand up in it anyway!" Tentatively, Nick began to stand up, with Brian and AJ both shouting for him to stop and sit down. Slowly Nick straightened up, ignoring the shouts of his friends. "YEAH!" he yelled. "I told you I could do it!!" He stood triumphantly for a moment, then began to sit back down.
Which is when the canoe tipped over.
We in the upright canoe began paddling over to the others, who were a) trying to stop some of the stuff from sinking, b) trying to stay above water, and c) trying to drown Nick.
Brian had managed to turn the canoe, and was putting some of the bags back in, before getting in himself. He managed to save one of the paddles, when we joined him.
"Have you got everything?" asked Howie.
"No, there's a couple of bags that sank. Help me stop these two," Brian said, pointing with the remaining paddle to Nick and AJ who were chasing each other around in the water.
"Come on, you guys," Kevin called. "Stop fooling around."
"The water's freezing. You'll catch cold. I mean, this is Ontario, and July or not, you'll be cold." I added, trying not to sound too maternal.
"Where's the other paddle? They float, don't they?" said Howie, scanning the water.
"I've got it right here!" yelled AJ, who was using it to try and hit Nick.
"Okay, that's the last of the stuff on the bottom that I could find. The current was pretty strong, it might have drifted into deeper water," said Brian, towelling dry.
"That's okay," I said, taking stock of the stuff Brian had brought up after diving for it. "We've got all the essentials. We had enough foresight to put all the perishables into our bag," I added conspiratorially. Brian laughed. At our campsite (really just a clearing in the woods), the other guys were setting up the tents, and getting a fire going. Meanwhile, AJ was going through the new bags frantically.
"Oh no," he said. "It must have been in one of the lost bags.." he trailed off.
"What, AJ? What did you lose?" I asked.
"My hair gel..." he said despondently. I started to laugh, but stopped when I realised he was serious. I decided to go check how the food was doing.
"Hey, Howie," I said, looking over his shoulder into the pot. "What are you making?"
"Just some stew. I thought we could use something hot to eat. It's pretty cold."
"Yeah," I agreed. I looked quickly at the sky, noting the clouds in the distance. "Oh dear."
"What is it, Lily?" Howie asked.
"Rain." I said, pointing. "Heavy rain. And not to far off."
"We'd better hurry and get the tents up," Howie said, and went to help Kevin and Nick with that. I stirred the stew.
Hearing the argument coming from the tent area, I realised that the rain wasn't the only storm brewing.
"It's all your fault!" Kevin yelled. "If you had just kept sitting down, we'd still have our packs."
"And I'd still have my hair gel!" AJ chimed in angrily.
"Oh, that's right, blame it all on me!!" yelled Nick back indignantly.
"That's so immature! Just try accepting some responsibility sometimes!" Kevin retorted.
"You're always ganging up on me!" Nick cried.
"That's cause you're always the one to blame!" yelled Brian, entering the argument.
"Yeah, well you're all dumb! You big meanies!" Nick shrieked.
"All I want is my hair gel back," whined AJ.
"Oh, nuts to your hair gel!" shouted Brian, Kevin and Nick simultaneously.
This last remark drove AJ over the edge; he sat on a log, hugging his knees to his chest, rocking back and forth and chanting: "I have no hair gel. This is not happening. I have no hair gel. This is not happening. I need my hair gel..."
The fight quickly degenerated into random insults, with Howie trying frantically to stop the fighting.
"Come one guys," he yelled, finally. "Why can't we just all get along? I know! Let's have a sing-along! Kumbaya.."
"SHADDUP, HOWIE!" they yelled in unison. They were very good at yelling in unison. All those rehearsals had paid off.
I, watching from a distance, could no longer contain my mirth. I saw the humour of it all. The scene was hilarious. I burst out laughing. I couldn't help it. I collapsed by the fire, laughing so hard I nearly choked.
Everyone in the camp, with the exception of AJ, suddenly turned to start yelling at me, which is when we first smelled the ominous scent of a skunk.
"Skunk!" I screamed. "Everybody run for it!" While we panicked, the skunk merely strolled disinterestedly towards our packs. We ran for it, deserting camp to its smelly new visitor. Everyone, that is, except for AJ, who continued rocking.
As we ran, everyone separated, which, looking back, I suppose was not such a great idea. In fact, it now seems rather stupid, but then, we were frantic at the time.
I ran for what seemed like ages, until I finally spied a nearby tree. I decided to climb up, just for the sheer hell of it, and made it up quite far. It seemed a better idea than running, anyway. So I settled among the branches. It was very quiet, and almost cosy. It was a definitely a nice change from the so-far hectic day spent with my Crazed Companions.
I was even beginning to contemplate spending the night up here when suddenly, Brian and Nick burst out of the bushes screaming "Bear! Bear!"
"Can bears climb trees?" yelled Nick to Brian.
"I don't think so!" Brian hollered back.
"Then let's climb this one!"
They were both so engaged in climbing the tree and escaping the "bear" (although I couldn't see one, even from my high vantage point) that they failed to notice me.
Now only a few branches down from where I was, Brian clutched the tree for dear life.
"What's the matter?" Nick asked.
"I just remembered something!"
"I'm afraid of heights!" said Brian, inching closer to the trunk.
"Omigod...so am I!" Nick exclaimed.
"Only if you'll hold me!"
The two big scaredy-cats sat in the tree for the longest time, holding on to each other and whimpering, until I couldn't help it any longer and called out: "Aww, what a Kodak Moment."
At the sound of my voice, the two immediately sprang apart. "You didn't see nothing!" said Nick quickly. Too quickly.
"Oh, I think I did," I said with a chuckle. "Now, you want me to leave you two alone?"
I was answered only by a bright, double blush.
I finally managed to get my two acrophobic friends down, and after telling them that bears do climb trees, we set out back to camp. After a few moments, we met up with Howie, whose face was smeared with red berry juice and who greeted us with: "I didn't eat them all, really."
After a few more minutes of travelling, we met up with Kevin, who was soaked completely and smelled faintly of fish. I cocked an eyebrow at him.
"Don't ask," he warned. So I didn't.
We came back to the campsite in good time to find it exactly as we had left it. Well, maybe not exact.
"I have no hair gel. I smell like a skunk. This is not happening. I have no hair gel. I smell like a skunk. This is not happening..." AJ chanted, rocking back and forth on his log.
For the second day in a row, our peaceful, slumbering camp was woken by a scream. But this time, it wasn't me.
"WAAAAAAHHHH!" shrieked AJ, as he ran into my tent.
"WAAAAAAHHHH!" I shrieked, as he ran into my tent.
"WAAAAAAHHHH!" screamed both Brian and Nick as they discovered a skunk in their tent. The two others followed AJ into my tent, and very soon, they all sat around me, staring at each other.
"There's a skunk in our tent!" yelled Nick.
"Wha....?" I said sleepily.
"There's a skunk in our tent," Nick repeated helpfully.
"WAAAAAAHHHH!" I said yet again.
Now we were joined by Howie and Kevin, who had come to see what the screaming was about.
"There's a skunk in our tent," Nick said for the benefit of Howie and Kevin. I began to regret not packing aspirin instead of coffee at this point.
"I woke up, and stretched, and my arm landed on something furry but it wasn't Brian it was the SKUNK!" said AJ all in one sentence. He drew a deep breath and continued: "They opened up the tent flap last night because of the skunk smell and then the skunk wandered in and I think its in love with me cause it sprayed me then kept wandering around the campsite winking at me."
As if to prove his point, the aforementioned skunk sauntered in through my open tent flap, minced its way over the covers, snuggled up next to AJ and promptly fell asleep.
"WAAAAAAHHHH!" we all screamed as we ran out of the tent. The skunk followed AJ out of the tent, looking slightly grumpy at having its beauty sleep disturbed. We all gathered for yet another simultaneous scream when I realised the skunk's vicinity to my clothes.
"Stop!" I said hurriedly. "If it sprays near my tent, that smell will be all over my stuff. Just back away slowly."
We backed away slowly. The skunk yawned, and walked to the shade of a nearby tree to sleep. "Skunks are nocturnal," I added. "We should be okay during the day."
That crisis averted, we all relaxed some what. "I think I'm going to have some breakfast," I said. What I really wanted was some coffee, and I was hoping that some coffee had magically appeared by the campfire.
"Maybe we should get dressed, too," Kevin added. We all stopped to glance at Brian's boxer shorts, the pink ones with the bunnies. I giggled, and Brian went bright red.
I strolled over to the campfire to find the remains of last night's stew lying all crusty at the bottom of the pot. It must have boiled for too long while we were running around the woods screaming. I looked around the area, hoping that the Magic Java Fairy had left a treat for me under a rock, but all I found were small scuttling bugs, which I hastily dropped the rock back on.
"So what's in the pot?" asked Howie.
"Crust," I said.
"Bread?" he asked, slightly confused.
"No." I replied. I showed him the remains of the stew, and he made a face.
"Time to break out the cornflakes," he said. I nodded.
After a wholesome and nutritious breakfast of Froot Loops [we couldn't find the Corn Flakes OR the Rice Krispies] we decided to go on a hike. The weather had cleared up considerably, and besides, there was nothing else to do.
The skunk decided it wanted to come too. Just as we had started breakfast, the skunk had woken up, and AJ had pitched Froot Loops at it, which it had then caught in its mouth. The trick was quite amusing, when you forgot the fact that this was a skunk.
"Is the skunk coming too?" asked Nick.
"I guess so," I said. The skunk had followed AJ around all morning, close at his heels, and very docile.
"Of course Petunia is coming!" cried AJ, patting her on the head. She gave a little skunkish purr, and wove herself around his heels.
"You named her Petunia?!" we all yelled. We had become very good at yelling in unison due to our practice.
"Yeah," he said sheepishly. I sighed and rolled my eyes, and the others guys began to laugh hysterically.
"Ssh, guys, you're frightening her," AJ warned them. Petunia was hiding behind his legs, shivering.
They all stopped instantly, since "frightened" meant "spraying". AJ already smelled to high heaven, and we weren't anxious to have double dose of it.
Finally, we got ourselves all together, and started on our hike. There weren't any trails, so we decided to make our own, mostly by pointing and saying "This way!".
Of course, this wasn't exactly the brightest thing to do, since it is very easy to get lost, but then, we were making huge dents in the countryside, so that it easy to find our way back. This was due mainly to Nick, who was leading the way, enthusiastically hacking at the vegetation with a large stick he had found.
We hacked along for quite a while until Nick, enthusiastically swinging his stick, whacked Kevin in the shins. (by accident, or so he claimed.)
Although he wasn't seriously hurt, just bleeding a little bit, Kevin decided to go back to camp for some band-aids. I decided to go back with him, since I was getting a blister. The other guys were willing to turn around too, but we convinced them to go on. We'd be okay on our own.
By the time we had gotten back, I was limping, and Kevin had blood all down his leg. I got the bandages out of my pack, except that, somehow, they had gotten wet, and were stuck together in one with heap o' band-aids.
"You'll have to make do with kleenex," I said. Kevin laughed.
"That's alright," he said. We waded out into the lake in an attempt to clean our wounds. One thing led to another...and soon there was a full-blown water fight.
Afterwards, we towelled off, and started a fire to cook lunch. "I think we're going to have to make mac'n'cheese..." I said. "That's the extent of my cooking ability."
"That's okay," Kevin answered, putting more wood on the fire. "I'm sure when they come back they'll be starving anyway."
"Do we have to make lunch for Petunia, too?" I asked. He laughed, not noticing Petunia who was waddling up to him, a few minutes ahead of the others. She stuck her nose into the pot, giving Kevin the shock of his life.
"WAAAAAAHHHH!" he said, leaping up, dropping the wood he was carrying. One of the pieces fell into the fire, causing sparks to shower over him. And catch his pants on fire.
"OH NO! I'M ON FIRE!" he screamed, then started to try and shake the fire off. Suddenly, deep in the recesses of his mind, a familiar saying came through to him.
"Stop, drop, and what was that last one? ROLL!" he immediately dropped to the ground, and rolled around. I ran up with a wet towel to smother one of the fires, when I realised the campsite was becoming very smoky.
I looked up, to see that one of the sparks from the fire had landed on a stack of nearby kindling, and set it ablaze!
The camp was on fire!
"FIRE! FIRE!" I started screaming. "Quick, we've got to get the others!"
AJ, Nick, Brian and Howie chose that moment to make their entrance, coming upon a campsite that was full of screaming people, panicking skunks, and fire. Lots of it.
Howie got his wits together first and grabbed the emergency radio they had brought with them for, well, an emergency. He tuned it to the Ranger's frequency, but before he could say something, Nick grabbed it and began screaming: "FIRE! HELP! ISLAND FIRE! BAD! HELP!!!!"
There was a crackling reply, then the radio died.
"Oh dear," Howie said.
"Quick!" I yelled. "We've got to get to the lake!" The fire was burning too hard to save any of the stuff except our skins. We tore off in a panic toward the lake. We got to the canoes, and began getting them in the water when AJ suddenly remembered.
"PETUNIA!" he yelled, tearing off back to the camp.
"AJ!" Kevin yelled, running after him.
"Kevin!" hollered Howie, following suit.
"Howie!" cried Brian, running.
"GUYS!" yelled Nick, bolting after them.
Left alone at the water's edge, I shrugged and raced off as well.
The campsite was full of smoke, and every where there were fleeing animals, but no skunks anywhere in sight.
When I reached the campsite, it was hard to see anything, but all of a sudden, I heard something rather odd. I realised it was the sound of helicopters! They had heard the radio after all! We were saved!
Then I realised that they had come to put out the fire. Which meant that--
"OH NO!" I screamed. "Everybody run!"
"What?" yelled Kevin.
"The helicopters! They've come to put out the fire! We've got to get out of here!"
But it was too late. The 'copters were right over us. The 'copters with water tanks strapped to their sides.
We sat in a circle in the Ranger's cabin, huddled in blankets, completely soaked. Howie sneezed.
"You're damn lucky we got your call before the radio died," Ranger Rick Stevenson said. Only I had found his name funny, but I was too tired to laugh. "If you hadn't yelled so loud, we wouldn't have heard you at all."
Nick smiled weakly. Howie sneezed again.
"It's just unfortunate that you happened to be right under our tanks when we opened them," Ranger Stevenson continued. We all sighed and nodded, Howie sneezing as well.
AJ looked particularly miserable, since he hadn't been able to find Petunia anywhere. We grieved with him, silently and tiredly. When Stevenson heard the whole story, he had laughed like he had just heard the funniest thing in his life. Not even AJ's pathetic expression stopped him. I was beginning to warm up to ol' Ranger Rick.
But the turning point in our budding relationship was when he noticed how tired we were.
"Hey," he said. "Do you want me to make you guys some coffee?"
The rest of the moment became a blur, but I have a faint memory of flinging my arms around him, and yelling: "Marry me, my love!"
When we had dried off, warmed up, and finished our cups of coffee, we flew back over to the island to see if there was anything to salvage. Secretly, it was also for a memorial for Petunia, believed lost in the blaze. (We didn't tell Rick this, for fear he'd laugh and crash the helicopter.)
On the island, we managed to save the canoes, and a few scraps of clothing. What wasn't burned [the tents were completely torched] had been ruined by the water, so there was nothing really to save, except a few scraps.
AJ stood in the center of the clearing, hands clasped, head bowed. We all came up to him to offer our condolences for his loss, when there was a sudden rustling in the charred bushes. We all looked over, to see Petunia come bounding out of the bushes.
"Petunia!" AJ cried joyfully. She leapt into his arms, and I decided that even with the fire, the weekend hadn't been a total loss.