Sunday, May 23, 6:30 a.m., Box Lake

Dan Daniels—DanDan to his friends—was eighteen years old, five days from graduating high school. And he was dead. His body lay limp, a rag doll across a large boulder on the shore. His head caved in on one side. His throat cut for good measure.

The little rocks were cold on Karl’s bare feet. He rubbed his temples. Sweat ran down his back. The murky blue lake water lapped up in small gulps on the pebbles.

Devon vomited into the sand. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He wore only mud-covered sweat shorts.

Smith brushed back the hair from his forehead, gagged, and ran for the water. He had found DanDan. He stripped and threw his bloody clothes on the beach. He dove into the lake and scrubbed his chest and arms. The dried blood liquefied and merged with the water.

Jason stood, just up the hill, his eyes locked on DanDan’s body. His feet were bare.

Smith climbed out of the water on his hands and knees. He gasped and cried.

“What do we do?” Devon asked Karl.

A hawk swirled overhead, and Karl watched it with his mouth open.

Devon asked again, “What do we do?”

Karl blinked. His knees buckled, and he fell forward. He caught himself, and his hand landed in DanDan’s blood that had pooled on the rock. It was cold and dry.

“We get the police,” Karl said.

Smith curled up into the fetal position. “Oh, God!”

Karl touched DanDan’s icy, stiff hand.

“One of us needs to go to the police. Get into town, find the police, and bring them out here,” Karl said.

“I’ll go,” Jason said.

 

Friday, May 21, 6:45 a.m., Karl’s Bedroom

The ceiling fan spun above him, the furniture a blur of shadows around the room. His alarm clock sat out of reach on the dresser. 6:45 a.m. Karl swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He paused and let his feet warm the cold floor as he smoothed out his bedhead.

He opened his curtains. The road in front of his house was quiet; no sign of Devon’s car.

His cell phone buzzed on his dresser. His father’s face shone on the screen. The old man’s text read, “Hey, K-man. Gonna miss grad night. I know. I’m a bitch. Be in Sun. AM. Then, beers and wings until we puke! I apologize for any inconvenience caused,” with a shit emoji. His father had a sense of humor. 

“Par for the course,” he said. “The SOB will be making this up to me for weeks.” Karl smirked.

6:55 a.m. and his second alarm sounded, followed by Devon pounding on the front door.

“Open the door, dingle!” Devon yelled. “Come on, man! So slow! You’re like my mother!”

Karl flung the front door open. 

“Shut it. You’ll wake the neighbors,” Karl said.

Devon mooned him. Karl kicked him, and they tumbled out to Devon’s vintage red ’62 Mustang with white leather seats. Devon had restored it himself. The boy couldn’t hit a fastball, but he could fix a car. Devon checked his perfect wavy blond hair in the mirror.

“Gee, Dev, you’re so pretty!” Karl cooed.

“Suck it,” Devon said.

 

Friday, May 21, 6:00 a.m., Jason’s Bedroom

Jason watched himself dry off in the mirror with his crimson red Stanford University towel. It was a gift from his father when he was awarded a full scholarship. They celebrated the advancement of the Plan with his father’s friends, eight hundred bucks worth of filet mignon and two strippers. They even threw him into the pool, clothes and all. Then he and his father smoked stogies late into the night.

Jason styled his brown hair with pomade, pulled tan shorts from the dresser, and a green Polo from the closet. A box he had looked at a thousand times sat on the top shelf. He took it down. 

The green shoebox was tattered by usage and marred by stickers. A Boy Scouts sticker hung onto the lid for dear life. Lined up inside the box were his badges, his compass, his magnifying glass, and his boxcar racer. Along the bottom of the box, his childhood pride and joy: a Bowie knife, also a gift from his father.

 Jason touched the edge: sharp as ever. While in Boy Scouts, he, Karl, and Devon would go into the “desert” to hack through bushes, cut open cactus, and dissect lizards with the knife. The steel blade held many memories. 

He replaced the lid and slid the box back on the shelf.

 

Friday, May 21, 6:30 a.m., Smith’s Bedroom

Carlton Smith nudged the bed with his knee and pulled the blinds open. His son, Connor Smith stirred.

“This is a pigsty,” Carlton said. 

T-shirts hung over the nightstand, pants stuck out of half-shut drawers in his dresser, jackets on the floor instead of in the closet. Carlton chuckled at the sight and touched the hot cup to Smith’s bare arm.

 “Ah!” Smith shouted. His pillow flew up and landed on the floor.

“Mom made breakfast.”   

 “Mom doesn’t make breakfast,” Smith said.   

“It’s your last Friday of high school,” Carlton said. “She cooked to celebrate.” 

Smith sat up slowly, the previous night’s binge still hanging on. He made every attempt to just look tired. Carlton was the chief of police. He knew Smith smoked pot. And every time Carlton caught Smith, Smith never denied it. Then Carlton would ask the standard parent question, “Why?” And Smith would break down, cry, and ask his father to forgive him. Then he’d swear to never do it again. Carlton would forgive him, and the cycle would begin again. 

But today, Smith didn’t want to deal with it, so he rubbed his face and didn’t look directly at his dad. Like that would fool him, Smith thought. But it didn’t hurt to try.

Carlton sat on the edge of the bed. He waited.

 “You’re weirding me out, Dad,” Smith said.   

“I—we have a gift for you,” his father said. 

“The last time you announced a gift, it was dance lessons,” Smith said.

Carlton sipped his coffee. “We know you’ve wanted to explore Europe—backpacking.”

“You didn’t!” Smith said.

“So you and I are going to spend the entire month of July hiking Europe!” his father said.

“No way!” Smith said. 

“What do you say?” his father asked.

“Great, the two of us,” he said. He forced a smile. 

Carlton slugged him on the arm. “I know I’m not Candice, but you know, we’ve never done anything like this. Hell, I’ve never taken you anywhere, just you and me. I want to make up … lost time.”

“No, seriously, it’s perfect,” Smith said. 

He turned to the other side of the bed and faced the wall to hide his disappointment.

“Eggs, bacon, pancakes,” Carlton said. “Get them while they’re hot.”

“Right.”

“Love you, Connor,” Carlton said.

 

Sunday, May 23, 7:30 a.m., Box Camp

The campfire crackled and popped. Black smoke poured upward and over the trees. A blood-soaked T-shirt melted in the flames. The bloody shorts followed. The heat of the fire turned Smith’s legs, groin, and stomach bright red. Smith put the Bowie knife to his wrist. Karl scrambled around the fire to Smith’s side.

“Hey!” Karl said.

“Don’t fucking touch me, Karl,” Smith growled.

“What’re you doing?” Karl asked.

“What’s it look like?”

“Your dad, the police, we can work something out,” Karl said.

“Like they don’t have enough evidence. The three of you saw me covered in his blood.” Smith barred his teeth. “I’m going to jail, Karl, if my dad doesn’t kill me first.” 

A spot of blood popped up on the blade. Karl backed up, his hand waving in front of him. He sat in the dirt.

“Hey, now,” Karl said. “Let’s talk.”

“Jail, Karl. Jail. I’ve heard the horror stories. I have. My dad filled my head with them. So I wouldn’t go to jail.” Smith put the knife to his throat. “I won’t go. I don’t remember killing him, but I must’ve, I must’ve. I was covered in blood, wasn’t I, Karl?”

“This isn’t the answer,” Karl said.

“Everyone says that. But it’s my answer. I can’t face him. I can’t.”

Smith pressed the knife to his skin. A small cut formed. 

Karl waved his hands at Smith. “Stop, please. Please!” Karl said. “Smith, please.”

“I killed DanDan,” Smith said.

 

Friday, May 21, 6:50 a.m., DanDan’s House

DanDan stuffed his clothes and his gun into the sleeping bag. The outside was green-and-brown striped plastic. The inside, red flannel goodness. He leaned over and inhaled the smell, a distinct mixture of dust, sweat, flannel, and mothballs. He’d used it out in his backyard growing up, his grandfather choosing to sleep on the bare ground, a jacket for a pillow, lying next to him. He’d never been camping for real. He felt like a little kid. He would be gone for the last weekend of high school. Cool way to go out.

His grandfather choked out one of his emphysema, phlegm-filled, deep-chested coughs in the next room. He would be dead in a year. DanDan promised to take care of his grandmother when the doctors gave the diagnosis. Finding full-time work became his driving passion. College was not in the picture anyway. He was barely graduating. He was only at East Valley Prep because his grandfather’s retirement fund paid for the college prep education. School was always a battle. It took until third grade for teachers, counselors, and grandparents to see he was dyslexic. And by then, he was well behind the others.

DanDan leaned over his grandmother—the only mother he’d known—and kissed the top of her head. Her hair, white as snow, short and permed, smelled of hairspray. 

“I’m going camping with Karl and Devon tonight. Back Sunday,” he said.

“Be careful.” She held his face and looked in his eyes. “Tell him good-bye before you leave.”

“Grandma…”

“For me,” she said.

The room was dark. He could just make out his grandfather lying in bed, his back to the door. His hand held the doorknob.

DanDan stood in the doorway.  “See you Sunday, Grandpa.”

His grandfather rolled over. “You camping this weekend?”

“Yeah.”

“Devon going with you?”

“Yeah.”

“Karl?”

“Yeah.”

The dying man sighed. “They’re good kids.” 

“Sure.”

A long pause. “Smith going?” 

“No.” He hated lying to the old man.

“Good. I don’t like him. Dopehead.” He coughed.

“Okay, see you in a few.” DanDan started to shut the door.

“Dan, I’m sorry you don’t have a tent,” his grandfather said. His voice was tired and filled with regret.

“It’s fine.”

“I should’ve bought you one.”

“Nah, it’s good. Me and nature. Sleeping under the stars. That’s the way, right?”

“Yeah. Still.”

“That’s what you always told me.”

“Sure. Dan?”

“I got to go. School.”

“I love you.”

DanDan stopped. “Me too.”

“See you Sunday.”

“See you Sunday.” 

 

Friday, May 21, 6:00 p.m., Box Camp

Their tents ringed a circular area cut from a thick patch of pine trees. The west side of the campsite was a wall of boulders rising twenty feet in the air. To the south, two trails ran into the woods. One went deep into the forest, the other over a small ridge and down to the lake. 

Karl smiled and took a deep breath. This was the place he and his father had camped, fished, ate, and talked.

“Smell it, boys, smell it,” he said.

Devon laughed. “All I smell is Jason!”

“Shut up!” Jason said, poking his head out of his tent.

“That’s air you can trust, boys,” Karl said.

DanDan scaled the boulders behind and pounded his chest. “I am the god!”

Smith drove the last tent stake into the ground, tossed the large rock aside, clapped the dirt off his hands, and went in. He unrolled his sleeping bag. He drew out a two-gallon Ziploc freezer bag of weed. He stuck his nose in and inhaled.

“That’s air I can trust,” he whispered. 

He zipped the bag up and slid it into the sleeping bag.

“Wood gathering duties. Now,” Karl said. He squatted outside the tent.

“Aye, aye,” Smith said.

They walked the trail, picking up firewood.

“This spot is the shit,” Smith said.

“Yeah, it is.”

***

DanDan unrolled his sleeping bag in Devon’s tent. He lay down and placed his hands behind his head. Devon sat on his bag next to DanDan.

“Freedom,” DanDan said.

“For shiz,” Devon said.

“No one says that, dumbass,” DanDan said. “It’s lit. Get the lingo.” 

“All I know is no more Lawson and history, and no more Freedson and geometry,” Devon said.

DanDan laughed. He held up his gun. “Target practice later.”

“Hellz yeah,” Devon said.

“You are so not on fleek.”

The crackle of the fire drew them out of the tent. Karl sat against a log, facing his inferno. Wood was stacked three feet high in the stone-ringed fire pit. Jason meditated outside his tent, hands in his lap, legs crisscrossed. 

“Stanford’s meditating,” DanDan said.

“Don’t blame him,” Karl said.

“No more SAT’s, exams, nothing,” Devon said.

“He’s Stanford, what the fuck he’s worried about?” DanDan asked.

Jason shook out his hands. Rolled his head. “Man, I was tense,” Jason said.

“You’ve got it made, ass face,” DanDan said.

Jason hurled a pinecone at him, pelting DanDan in the chest. 

“That all you got, Stanford?” DanDan said.

“Man, seriously, quit it,” Jason said.

Smith thumped down in front of the fire. “When do we eat, a-holes?” he asked.

“No way, no eating until we play,” Devon said. He threw Smith a football.

Karl led them to a small patch of grass beyond the camp. With Karl as all-time QB, the five played a game of touch football. DanDan forgot the no-tackling rules a few times when Jason had the ball. The game ended after DanDan speared Jason in the ribcage. Jason flopped to the grass and grabbed his side.

“My rib’s broken!” Jason said.

DanDan bent over him. “You’re a fraud, Stanford. One day, everyone will find out.”

Jason punched DanDan in the gut. He doubled over. 

Jason got up. “Touch me again, and I’ll waste you,” Jason said.

Devon pulled Jason back, and Karl helped DanDan to his feet.

“Food time, girls,” Karl said.

Jason took his time following them back to camp. Smith told jokes and farted, eliciting belly laughs from Karl and Devon. 

DanDan dropped back to Jason.

“Sorry,” DanDan said.

“How’s your grandmother?” Jason said. “Grandpa dead yet?”

DanDan’s smile faded. “Listen, Stanford. I know shit that will destroy you, yeah?”

Jason stopped. “You promised, Dan, this was our secret. That rules.” His eyes were wide, his nose flared.

“Screw with me again, and I’ll tell everyone what we did,” DanDan said.

DanDan jogged off, leaving Jason to stew.

 

Sunday, May 23, 8:00 a.m., Box Camp

Two sheriffs arrived on the scene first. A helicopter, coroner, and forensics team were in route. Officer Malinez and Officer Task approached the camp, guns drawn. Jason stayed near his Bronco. Up ahead, Smith yelled for Karl to stay back or he’d cut him up. 

Officer Malinez motioned to Officer Task. He would go around the west end of the camp, behind the boulders, while she took the direct route. 

Office Task brushed her hair out of her eyes and looked between two trees. Smith paced back and forth, a large knife held up to his throat, a small line of blood running down his jawline. Karl pleaded with him to stop.

She paused. He made a few more threats, then she yelled, “Son, this is the County Sheriff’s Department. My name is Officer Task. I can see you’re upset. You need to put the knife down. Put it down. I’m coming into the campground. Put the knife down and walk away from it. Put it down.”

Smith turned ash gray.

Officer Malinez appeared from around the boulders, stalking toward Smith.

“Shit,” Karl said.

Smith spotted Officer Malinez, gun aimed at his forehead, and Officer Malinez’s scowl.

“I’m sorry,” Smith said.

 

Saturday, May 22, 11:00 p.m., Box Camp

Their second dinner of the night consisted of bratwurst, hot dogs, Miller Light, and Lays chips. They roasted the meats on metal skewers. They drank from red cups. Smith couldn’t eat fast enough. He downed three brats and a dog. He drained two beers before the others had tapped the keg.

“Let’s go,” he mumbled. “Let’s go swim.”

He paced back and forth. The others ate and drank, in no hurry to go anywhere. Smith grew tired of waiting and walking and hurled himself into vigorous jumping jacks. Then he shot into a spasmodic round of cherry pickers. Lunges. Squats.

While Smith did a hundred sit-ups, Karl surveyed the beer stock. The keg was empty.

“Taking the tap out,” Karl said.

“I was just getting my beer on,” DanDan said.

“We drained it,” Karl said.

“Beer run!” Devon said.

“I’m not getting arrested,” Jason said.

Smith clapped out his seventy-fifth push-up. Jumped up and yelled, “Yeah! Let’s go!” He darted out into the dark, toward the lake.

The four ran after him. 

Smith crashed through the forest, slid down a small ridge, and hurled himself into the lake. The others followed suit. The water was cool. A splash fight broke out. Jason shoved Karl from behind, and Karl landed face first in the water. Jumping up, he chased Jason around the shallows.

“Hey, kiddies,” Smith said. “Dare you to swim out to the middle of the lake.”

“Too dark,” Karl said.

“Oh, is big Karl too scared of the dark?”

“Up yours,” Karl said. “And I’m tired.”

He went back to the camp. Jason, Devon, and DanDan splashed in the water a little longer and found their way back to the fire. Smith swam out to the middle of the lake.

 

Sunday, May 23, 6 p.m., Jason’s House

After four hours in the precinct lobby, then five minutes with the police, he was released. His house came into view. His father sat on the front step, smoking a cigar, talking on his cell phone.

Ed stood up. His tan slacks were wrinkled, but he smoothed them out. He retouched his shirt. “Talked to my lawyer. You’re golden. The principal will cooperate.” 

Maybe Smith and his drug-abused body would just give up and die? Jason thought. Then no trial, no lawyers, no more interviews.

“So, a dead body?” Ed said.

“Yeah,” Jason said.

“Quite a way to spend the weekend,” he said.

He put his arm around Jason’s shoulders. 

“It started out legit. The food and the beer, it was good—all good. But DanDan couldn’t let that stand,” Jason said. “He started in. Kept calling me ‘Stanford.’ He made fun of my hair, everything. By Saturday morning, he was on a roll. The others didn’t stop him. ‘Hey, Jason, you left your panties at home, right? Only men can hike this trail today.’  The hike was steep and rocky, and all I had were my Vans. I tripped. DanDan shoved me, and I fucking almost went over the side.”

“What a dick,” his father said. “I’d have pushed the a-hole off the cliff myself.”

Then Jason talked about the fight, DanDan’s threats, and the speech on the boulders. Ed was silent for a long time. He clipped the end of another cigar off. He lit it and puffed away. His hazel eyes narrowed.

 “Did you do those things with Dan?” Ed asked.

“Yes,” Jason said.

Ed sat back. He drank a whiskey and Coke. When he was done, he poured Jason and himself a whiskey and Coke. They drank in silence.

“So, the body?” Ed asked.

 

Sunday, May 23, 6:20 a.m., Box Lake

The wind stirred the water. Smith sat up, stiff as a board. The muscles in his back ached. His arms and thighs burned. He looked around. He was ten feet from the lake. He yawned and struggled to stand. He couldn’t remember why he was there. He stretched, bent over, and flexed his back. He arched his spine, and it popped and crackled. Twisting his head from side to side, he cracked his neck.

 The sun peeked its head over the tops of the trees. He had the odd feeling that he should run. He felt a deep sense of terror. Someone lay on a large rock near him. He approached and found DanDan and blood. He couldn’t process what he saw. He looked at his shirt and shorts and understood it all.

 

Sunday, May 23, 9:08 a.m., Northern Mountain Hospital

The newly waxed white floor squeaked each time Karl moved his running shoes. The television was on the morning news show, two talking heads discussing the latest fashion trends for cats. Karl attempted to relax, but the flexible, thinly padded plastic seats didn’t provide much comfort. He shifted in his chair. The beeping of the machine from Smith’s room matched his heartbeat.

Carlton, Smith’s father, jogged into the waiting area. 

“Karl,” he said.

A nurse met Carlton at the door and filled him in on Smith’s condition: deep wound to the throat, tremendous loss of blood, critical condition, life support.

Carlton entered and stood in the middle of the room. He didn’t approach the bed. He didn’t touch Smith. His arms hung at his side.

Karl stayed seated outside the room. Eventually, Carlton joined him. His hair stood on end. His breath reeked.

“Didn’t have time to shave or anything,” he said. “Drove straight here.”

“Yeah.”

Carlton sat forward.

“Karl, what happened out there?”

 

Sunday, May 23, 12:30 a.m., Box Camp

“Stanford’s got something to tell you? Huh, Stanford?” DanDan said. 

At the pinnacle of the boulder wall, DanDan fired off his gun into the air.

“Shut up!” Jason said.

“Your pals need to hear about what you—what we—did,” DanDan said. “We got bored, and after taking Devon to Shauna’s house one day, we decided to go back there the next night. Nobody was home. We broke in to see if we could. Took a pair of her panties and a thousand dollars in cash.”

“You’re full of shit,” Devon said.

DanDan aimed his gun at Devon. “Don’t call me a liar, Devon. You know me. I don’t lie.”

“You aim that thing, you better shoot it,” Devon said.

The dirt in front of Devon exploded, and gunfire echoed around them. Devon jumped back. Jason ran around the side of his tent. Karl fell over a log toward the fire.

“What the hell?” Karl said.

“Then, we watched Freedson’s house and broke in there on a Sunday afternoon,” DanDan said. “They were at church or something. We left him a little present in his bed. Spray painted his walls.”

“Jason? What’s this about?” Devon asked.

“You said it. He’s lying,” Jason said.

“He shot at me!” Devon said. 

Smith tossed a box of ammo at Devon’s feet.

“He won’t do much without his bullets,” Smith said.

“Then, our crown jewel,” DanDan said. “We decided to break into someone’s home, someone we know, while they were awake, and get out without being noticed,” DanDan said. He snorted and spat. “But we got caught and tied her up, didn’t we Jason?”

“He can’t be serious,” Karl said.

“Devon, Stanford over there tied up Candice and blindfolded and gagged her,” DanDan said. “He whispered death threats in her ear. Smacked her around. We were wearing masks so she couldn’t see who we were, but he did it.”

“He’s lost his mind,” Jason said. “I told you he’d crack. I told you he’s a fucking psycho. What a bunch of shit. Like I’d do that to our friends. To Candice. He’s lying. He did all that himself.”

“Hey, Jason, scared Stanford will fucking yank your scholarship and destroy your Plan? Pissing your pants, East Valley will kick you out and make Karl vale-dick-torian in your place? This wasn’t part of the fucking Plan was it?” DanDan asked. He laughed at his own joke and shot four more rounds into the pine trees. The chamber was empty. He vanished into the rock outcropping.

“He comes down here, I’ll fucking end him myself,” Jason said.

“Bullshit, Jason,” Devon said. “The only one who could kill anyone is Smith.”

Smith pelted Devon with a hot dog. “Thanks, bro,” Smith said.

Jason pushed into his tent and came out with his Bowie knife.

“Put your Rambo knife away,” Devon said.

“You’re right, I can’t kill someone,” Jason said. 

He handed Smith the knife. Smith took it.

“Candice can’t sleep at night,” Smith said. “She has nightmares that she’s being tied up and tortured. Or raped.”

“We’ll go to the police,” Karl said.

Smith slapped his chest with his hand. “She’s my girl. I’m supposed to stick up for her.”

“Smith, let’s go into town and call your dad,” Karl said.

“He broke into her house and tied her up!” Smith turned to the boulders. “Come down here, DanDan! Face me, you little shit!”

 

Sunday, May 23, 12:40 a.m., Box Lake

DanDan couldn’t hear Smith. He had no ammo and was scared. He climbed down the back side of the boulders and headed to the lake in the dark. He drained his twelfth beer of the night and lay down on what would become his deathbed.

 

Sunday, May 30, 6:48 a.m., American Airlines, Flight 502

Jason, dressed in a crisp, pressed blue dress shirt, pink tie, and newly tailored brown suit pants, buckled the airplane seatbelt. His father, dressed equally well, checked his Breitling Transocean Day & Date watch, unfolded his USA Today newspaper and read. They were headed to Palo Alto to find themselves a new home. This was a permanent move. Jason would start his freshman year, and they’d start a new life. Leave the old one behind. Bury the past, so to speak.

Jason gripped the seat handles as the plane taxied the runway. In a moment, they would be gone.

His father took his hand. “New start, boy. Brand new. We alter the Plan a little, but we keep going. Everyone has a skeleton or two. Move on.” His father turned back to the paper and kept reading.

The engines revved up. Jason and Ed’s cell phones rang and buzzed. 

Jason’s phone showed two messages from Karl and one from Carlton. Karl’s messages said the same thing: “We know what u did. Got proof.” Carlton’s message read, “Come down to the station with your dad. Now!”

Ed pressed the phone to his ear and listened. He asked, “Jason, where are your Vans shoes?”

The plane rushed the runway and lifted off.

 

Monday, May 24, 2:55 p.m., Box Lake

They managed to find and follow the waffle-cone tracks around the thoroughly investigated campsite. They went up the boulder wall, down to the lake, and lost the Vans signature sole print in the sand and pebbles. But Karl rediscovered the tracks half a mile from the spot DanDan had been found. Carlton knelt with an evidence bag and picked up proof that Smith had been innocent. Safe and secure in the sealed plastic were Jason’s Vans, stained brown. A minor comfort for Carlton to ease the passing. His wife would find no real solace in it. But it was something.

“Thank you, Karl,” he said.

 

Sunday, May 23, 2:25 a.m., Box Lake

He could feel the dark press in on him. An owl sounded off nearby. He nearly tripped over his untied laces. He wiped mud off the side of his Vans. He looked down from what had been DanDan’s vantage point during the betrayal. Smith slept by Karl’s tent. The fire pit smoldered. No one stirred. DanDan wasn’t on the boulders. He had to be by the lake. 

He took his time getting to the shoreline. The pebbles of the beach crunched under the rubber soles. He could see a large rock at the lake’s edge and a dark mass on top of it. Snoring came from that direction.

The cool breeze chilled his bare chest. His hands tightened around the knife and the flat rock. Smith’s shirt was in the back pocket of the shorts.

He found DanDan asleep on his back, his arms flopped to the side. Jason’s heart raced. He raised the rock Smith had used to drive in his tent pegs above DanDan’s head. He paused and smashed down once, twice. The snoring stopped. He dropped the stone, and after three strokes of the knife, he soaked Smith’s T-shirt in the blood that pooled around DanDan’s head. He wiped the blade on Smith’s shorts, which he wore.

Once the shirt was drenched, Jason walked the shoreline of the lake until he could no longer see DanDan’s body. He blindly tossed his shoes up the shore. He slipped off Smith’s shorts and shirt laid them in the sand before dipping himself down in the cold water. He dunked down over and over again. Then, he swam out until his toes no longer touched the bottom. He sank to the lake floor, and the water wrapped itself around him.

He stood over the clothes and wept for DanDan, for the choice he had forced Jason to make. Secrets were never meant to be shared. And DanDan had broken Jason’s rule. 

He never noticed he was barefoot.

He carried the shorts, the knife, and the bloody shirt back to camp. He put the shorts and shirt on Smith, lifted Smith over his shoulder, and carried him down to the lake’s edge. He positioned him near the body and put the knife in his hand. 

When they woke him the next morning, he acted shocked at the news.

DanDan was dead.