Outdoors, Outlined

Mention how each scout carried a pack suitable for their size, a thermo-rest and tarp, a sleeping bag wrapped in garbage bags for good measure, three pairs of wool socks, spare sets of clothes, a full-brimmed hat, and a mess kit consisting of knife, spork, and cup.

Remember the compasses in their pockets, the maps they followed, the sunscreen on their skin, the tablets cleaning water with the foul taste of iodine, the whistle and signaling mirror, the matches in waterproof pouches, the lightweight flashlights with spare bulbs, and first aid kits with twelve types of bandages.

Mention the older scouts carrying Game Boys, personal snacks, illegal switchblades, playing cards with naked women, cigarettes and stolen vodka, marijuana hidden within coffee beans, slingshots, music players and headphones, Playboys and Hustlers, Airsoft guns and pellets enough for every passing bird.

Move around the West Coast, but don’t settle on any campsite for more than a page. Include the granite cliffs of Sword Lake—how they enclosed the water. Don’t forget the snow sites and stolen beer.

Paint your scenes with words and feelings, with dirt and sweat.

Paint with blood.

Perhaps begin in the snow? Mention entire backpacks dedicated to carrying three to four comforters, filling otherwise freezing tents with insulation, as well as the lucky older scout who slept in his father’s Durango each night. Mention that same guy later almost getting his ear sliced off by a speeding snowboarder.

Move to a scene with a circle of boys shivering by their campfire. Center on the larger older scout—tell your reader about the meds given by his mother which he avoids while camping; how he terrorizes those younger than him; how he will eventually become an Eagle Scout.

Hide his identity. Possible names: G-Dawg, G-Unit, or maybe just Gee.

Show Gee cornering another boy his age, the outsider with curly hair visiting from another troop. The circle forming. Gee screams, “You fucking Jew!” and laughs as the other scouts look around uncomfortably. The visitor shakes his head and walks away.

Maybe continue the scene, following this stranger, painting his resentment and wild depression, how he directs movies with his friends using his mother’s camcorder.

Maybe a few older boys give Gee a high-five.

Either way, show the snowball fights—different boys from different states, battling for their pride in the cold, while your particular troop sneaks behind other teams, sandwiching them from the higher ground, pelting the unsuspecting. Show how faces recoil, bleeding when chunks of hurled ice strike them. Show how effectively a plastic sled bashes a middle-schooler to the ground, the wildness of alcohol and pills smuggled and consumed.

Continue the scene into the afternoon, where a dangerously bored Gee decides to confront the stranger again at their campsite. Show snowballs striking the curly haired boy, knocking his glasses from his face, and the way Gee keeps laughing, “What’s wrong, Jew?”

Mention one of the older scouts picking up a block of ice, like a brick in his hands. Claim it to be yourself if you want the credit. Show yourself pegging Gee in the stomach. Remember the bruise—a nasty purple and black blotchiness across his side—as Gee limps away. Remember the other older scouts pursuing him while you yell, “What’s wrong, isn’t that funny, fucker?”

No further comments necessary.

Moving on, perhaps a campfire in New Mexico? A group of boys wait for their 100-mile journey to begin—describe the restlessness of this task. Have Gee borrow another scout’s saw to begin hacking away at the branch in hand. Have him be warned, yet continue with fury.

Have the blade slip—Gee’s exposed finger, torn tendons, flesh hanging as if from string.

Follow Gee as he rushes to the nearby bathroom, hand gushing, scouts joining him with nervous laughter. Have Gee shake his hand over the sink, fat droplets spotting the bowl and faucet, covering it crimson. Paint Gee’s laughter. How it grows like a scream. Have him wave his bleeding hand over the mirrors, before moving to bathroom stalls and tiled floor, painting the entire room in blood.

No need to mention the scoutmaster walking in, yelling, Christ, it looks like somebody’s been murdered in here. No need to show Gee scrubbing the place clean with paper towels and warm water as disinfectant. Stories don’t need morals or just endings—life’s hysterical; that’s half the fun of it.


By Christopher Morgan