Kyle got his piss shorts ready. They were his last pair, he would have to wear jeans for rafting.
He took the bag that held his snacks. Dumped them onto his sleeping bag. Stuffed the shorts in. He couldn’t do knots so he spun it until the handles wrapped around themselves.
He left the tent, looked outside. The timing was right. The boys had eaten breakfast. They were all watching smoke on the one mounted TV, listening to the teachers talk about how they would get home now, if they would need buses.
Kyle walked away from the campground and into the trees.
He passed the rotted log, the strange white tube left in the dirt. It was a good sign that no one had come for it.
At the edge of the hill Kyle re-spun the bag. The plastic was stretched clear in places, but nothing soaked through.
He descended, using roots as footholds. His pants slipped without a belt. He had no underwear. He went handless to pull the jeans to his waist. The snacks were supposed to make him heavier; he’d left granola back in the tent and chocolate chips and special bars with men on the wrapper.
The tree was straight ahead. No tag on its trunk. One branch stuck out so low and separate it looked about to break.
He got the shorts out. They hadn’t dried at all. He thought, as always, that it was too much, that another boy must have helped piss them. He carried them by the drawstrings towards the tree. They sagged, lengthened with the weight, like a puppet trying to get free of him.
As he went around the base of the tree something stepped out.
–Sorry, Kyle said.
It was a soldier. He wore green and black camouflage, the stripes flowing sideways.
–As you were.
The soldier turned and gave Kyle space. He wasn’t very tall. His belly spread the middle of his shirt open.
Kyle continued to the spot.
The leaves had been cleared since yesterday. The hole, which he’d only managed to dig a few inches with a stick, was even deeper now, but empty. He stood over it with a drop of piss crawling down his forearm.
–You can let those down. That’s fine, the soldier said.
Kyle dropped them. They fell fast to the dirt.
The soldier came near. He stared down at the hole and said something Kyle couldn’t understand. Then passed in front of him. There was a backpack leaning on another part of the trunk, the soldier took a can of football chili out and tore the lid and ate with his hands. He offered some to Kyle. The can said HUNGRY across the top. Kyle did as the soldier did, but the ground meat slid off his fingers, he could only get beans.
–They’ll clear the whole place soon, the soldier said. He hit his knuckles on the bark. –Wipe it out. Are you ready for that?
Kyle wasn’t sure. –Yeah.
–Won’t get scared?
Kyle shook his head. Not far away, he saw his other clothes lying on a white bedsheet. The cargo shorts and the madras and the velcro swim suit and the samurai boxers, first to be buried. Everything looked smoothed out and unwrinkled.
The soldier noticed him. He stood, marched to the sheet. He set his legs wide and bent down, considering each piece thoughtfully, without touching it. Eventually he settled on the madras. A pair of underwear. He folded them in three moves. Before returning to Kyle he stopped at the edge of the hole and pointed down.
–These stay, he said. –But that’s one less. Do you understand?
The rafting was canceled and the canyon and the dam. Kyle’s track coach said they would be sleeping in a parking lot tonight.
During lunch it started raining. It didn’t stop so they canceled the parking lot as well.
They were told to pack and be ready by seven a.m. Everyone got a payphone call before bed; Kyle left a message.
He woke up. Usually that meant piss but he was catching himself, the first squirt of it warming his thigh. He dabbed it with the shorts. Got up on one elbow. Clenched.
Rain picked up again. The bathroom was on the other end of the campground, by the teachers. He knew he would have to walk in the dark and be heard.
Then there was movement outside the tent. Footsteps on wet ground.
Kyle watched the zipper trace along the yellow flap.
It peeled open. The soldier stuck his head in. He had a cap on now and leafy makeup, almost like the stripes had grown since that morning.
The other boys kept sleeping. Kyle had gone to bed early so they could slap cards on their bags.
The soldier held out his hand. He moved it back and forth.
When he met Kyle’s eyes he didn’t stop right away. But his expression changed. He lowered his hand. Nodded at him. Slowly, he backed out, zipping the flap shut.
Kyle lay down. He unbuttoned his shorts. They slipped easily off him, and his boxers. He was bare against the nylon. He listened to the rain, for the footsteps to reach the next tent over. Then he went back to sleep.