As soon as the glowing hands of my watch read 12:01, I stood, slung the duffel – which contained not only tools, but also gloves, my sleeping bag and bedroll, a first aid kit, and salves for the muscle aches and blisters I knew I’d have shortly – over my shoulder, and took off into the night. I kept the maps I’d studied diligently in my head, though there were copies in my pockets in easy reach.
The glow of the moon was plenty to get me across the clearing, and since I hadn’t used a flashlight dilating my eyes, was enough to allow me to find the deer trail I’d aimed for. I followed it in a ways, twenty yards or so, then struck off through the brush. Shortly, I reached the hill I’d discovered on the elevation surveys, and the thick bramble covering it. The hill was hard to climb, but I scrambled carefully and patiently through the brush, finally achieving the top. The hill was open to the sky, and thoroughly barricaded off by the thorny and prickly bramble. I smiled to myself, and got to work.
Dropping my duffel between my feet, the only clear area was the brush was stomped under my feet, I unzipped it, and found my branch clippers by touch. I started snapping them around me, clearing a small area where I could work. I tossed the trimming back along my route up the hillside, hiding the nearly indiscernible disturbance. Shortly, I had an empty area about a yard in either direction. The clippers went back in my bag, my shovel came out, and the duffel got pushed to the edge of my workspace. I started to dig.
Straight down was my first priority, and down I go. Very quickly I’m grateful I brought decent work gloves, and I shortly lose myself in the work. At first, it goes roughly, digging through the roots, and occasionally grabbing the clippers to cut through them; but eventually I get deep enough to just dig.
Before dawn hits, I grab one snack bar, and stretch my muscles while chomping it down. A long swig from one of my water bottles, the ice melted but still thoroughly cold. I’ve been tossing the dirt into the bramble, letting it spread out and sift within the plants to hide it. The lip of the hole as I stood in it rose to my chest, as the sky started to lighten. I pulled my sleeping bag and bedroll out of my bag, slid my clippers and shovel back in, and placed them all in my hole, curling up to await the candidates entering the forest. The last thing I needed was for someone to spot me flinging dirt.
I dozed off quickly with my body against the cold and comfortable dirt.
When I woke, the sun was high overhead and my body ached. I stood, stretched, and climbed carefully out of the hole, looking around. I’d guessed the candidates would head deeper before looking for a prime location, and it appeared I was right.
I swung my bag back out of the hole, restuffed and rerolled my sleeping bag and bedroll, stuffing both into the duffle, and pulled out my short shovel. The tunnel was expectedly narrow, and there wasn’t enough room for the full sized one, at least until I got deeper and widened the hole out for my living space.
I snacked and sipped as I slipped back into the rhythm, until the hole grew too deep to throw the dirt out, and I began wondering if I could still climb out. After several attempts of planting my arms and legs on opposite walls, I managed it, and scrambled out. I reached over to my bag and pulled out the last trick I’d brought with me in the small duffel, a long length of rope with a large bucket tied to one end.
Carefully, I scrambled out of the bramble, no longer as difficult as it was the first time, because of the raised level of dirt. I tied the end of the rope around the nearest tree, and carefully obscured it with loose dirt. The rope was knotted every foot or so, so I could use it for climbing as well as lifting dirt. After jerking hard to make sure my knot would hold, I laid it down among the brambles in a straight line towards the hole. I climbed back down into it, pulling the rope, and then the bucket with me.
I slowly slipped into the new rhythm. Fill the bucket. Climb out. Pull out bucket. Spread dirt. Drop rope back down. Climb down. Fill the bucket. Climb out. Pull out bucket. Spread dirt. Drop rope back down. Climb down. Fill the bucket...
Before I knew it, I could barely see. The sun had set, and the moon not yet risen, so the light from a very few stars whose rays lined up with my hole across the galaxy.
Despite the strain in my limbs, I climbed out of my hole. Glancing around, I decided it was dark enough. I pulled out my last snack bar, drained the last inches from my last water jug, and hung my empty jugs around my waist. I took the black hat out of my duffel, and put it on, made sure I had my keys, and started back towards my cabin, checking my watch. Eleven-thirty.
I sprinted across the clearing, fearing I might meet someone out there, but made it safely to my cabin. I unlocked the door, stepped in carefully, making sure nothing appeared to be out of place. Nothing was. I locked the door behind me and flipped on the lights. Quickly, I pulled my list out and found which boxes I needed for the next few days. I’d left the duffel in my hole, but it was too small anyways for what I would be carrying. I located the boxes on the walls and pulled them down – breathing equipment, woodworking tools, more food – and piled them out of the way. In the largest box I had grabbed – and one of the largest I bad brought with me – was a full-size camping backpack. Black, of course – it hadn’t come that way, so I’d wrapped it in non-reflective black tape, as well as muffled all the zippers.
I stood the bag upright on the bed, filling it carefully with everything I’d set aside, except for the breathing mask, which I set beside the bag. When I got back from filling my food and water supplies, I’d put it around my neck and head back. The bed was enticing, but I was more eager to have my living quarters completed.
I shut off the light and opened the door carefully, but there was someone out there waiting for me. He pushed me backwards into my cabin and shut the door.
“Were you waiting for me for very long?”
The figure flipped on the light switch. “Just since after dinner, tonight and last night.” John-Paul leaned against the door. “I started getting worried when I didn’t see you, even though I knew you could handle this. How’s it going?”
“Well. But I need to get over to the dining hall if it’s still open.”
“Alright. I won’t keep you then. One last thing. Zeke was worried when he didn’t see you at the starting line. Anything I can tell him?”
“Sure. Don’t walk through dense brambles. You might catch your foot and twist an ankle.”
John-Paul looked at me strangely. “Alright. I’ll pass that on. I sincerely hope everything you’re doing is legit–”
“It is. I promise.”
“Because I told Mr. John I checked your equipment and you were clear.”
I started, concerned he had peeked prematurely. “When?”
“When I helped you move the boxes. But I didn’t glance in any of them.”
I breathed carefully, keeping my momentary distrust from showing. “Thanks.”
He glanced at the black backpack. “I ought to get going then, before I’m noticed. And you need to get back to work.” He held out his hand and I shook it, then turned and left.
I shut off the lights and waited a few minutes before heading off again. I dodged a few late nighters on my way to the lighting hall, but made it without being seen. I filled my water bottles, dropped some food in my pockets – apples, oranges, a few bags of chips – then retreated back to the cabin. I stuffed more of my energy bars in the space that remained in the backpack. Finally, I hung the breathing mask around my neck, stooped down in front of the backpack and strapped it on. Standing carefully, I walked out the door, made sure it was locked, and headed slowly across the clearing.
I heard a shout when I was almost across. I sped up as best I could, leaning carefully forward. I dodged down the deer trail, located my hill and bramble, and clambered up to the entrance of my home for the next thirteen days.