A week in the woods, p.1
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       A Week in the Woods, p.1

           Andrew Clements
 
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A Week in the Woods


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  Contents

  Chapter One: Preparations

  Chapter Two: Leaving

  Chapter Three: Not the Same

  Chapter Four: Attitudes

  Chapter Five: Zero Pressure

  Chapter Six: Spoiled

  Chapter Seven: Skirmish

  Chapter Eight: Discoveries

  Chapter Nine: Testing

  Chapter Ten: Trial and Error

  Chapter Eleven: Spring

  Chapter Twelve: Gearing Up

  Chapter Thirteen: Readiness

  Chapter Fourteen: Zero Tolerance

  Chapter Fifteen: Retrial

  Chapter Sixteen: Into the Woods

  Chapter Seventeen: Tracks

  Chapter Eighteen: Bushwhacking

  Chapter Nineteen: Here

  Chapter Twenty: Camp

  Chapter Twenty-one: Found

  Chapter Twenty-two: Home

  For my son,

  Nathaniel James Clements

  One

  Preparations

  Mr. Maxwell looked at the long checklist, and then looked at the calendar, and then he shook his head. It was February thirteenth, and he was sitting at his desk in his classroom at quarter of seven on a Friday morning. And a question formed in his mind: Why on earth do I do this year after year? He quickly pushed that thought out of his head and turned back to the checklist.

  It had become a tradition at Hardy Elementary School: Bright and early on the Monday morning of the third week in April, the whole fifth grade piled into three buses and went off for a week in the woods.

  And that’s what the program was called: A Week in the Woods. It was nature studies and it was environmental science and it was campfires and creative writing and storytelling and woodcraft. It was always the last big event for the fifth-graders before they went on to the middle school. It was always fun, always memorable. And the person who always made it happen was Mr. Maxwell, the fifth-grade science teacher.

  The kids looked forward to A Week in the Woods. They all loved it. The fifth grade-teachers also looked forward to A Week in the Woods. But not all of them loved it. Not even most of them.

  In fact, there was a rumor that if Mr. Maxwell ever moved or retired, the program might change. It might become A Day in the Woods. And at this year’s early planning meeting, Mrs. Leghorn had been heard muttering, “This is Whitson, New Hampshire, for Pete’s sake! Every week is a week in the woods!”

  Mrs. Leghorn was the fifth-grade math teacher, and if she got her way, the program would become An Hour in the Woods—Without Me!

  But Mr. Maxwell had originated the program, and this would be his sixteenth year as its director. As always, he wanted the fifth-graders to have an outdoors experience that they would remember all their lives. So once again, it was going to be A Week in the Woods.

  * * *

  Bill Maxwell was a big man. He cut and split his own firewood, and he had the shoulders and arms to prove it. He always wore dress pants and a white shirt and tie to school, and that helped make him look less rugged and a little less imposing. But it was fair to say that Mr. Maxwell had never had a discipline problem in any of his classes. Ever.

  At forty-five years old, his thick brown hair was starting to turn gray, but apart from that, he looked like a man ten years younger. He wasn’t handsome, but he had a pleasant face, open and honest, with clear blue eyes and a strong jawline.

  He had grown up in northern New Hampshire and had majored in environmental studies at the state university. Then at the end of his junior year he took part in an Earth Day event at a grade school. That’s when Bill Maxwell discovered that he loved to teach almost as much as he loved the outdoors. He shifted his major to education, and one month after graduation he landed a job in Whitson as a fifth-grade science teacher.

  Bill and his college sweetheart had planned to get married, but after she graduated she took a job as an accountant for a big paper company. The marriage never happened. Young Bill Maxwell could not understand how anyone could work for an industry that did such bad things to the environment.

  During his next three years of teaching Mr. Maxwell lived in a boardinghouse in the nearby town of Atlinboro. During the summers he painted houses, and he saved every penny. Then he bought forty-five acres of wooded land about fifty miles north of Whitson and built himself a log house. He installed solar panels on the roof, and built a small generator system that made electricity from the stream that tumbled across his property. Before his first winter set in, he figured out how to make a catalytic converter that would reduce the pollution in the smoke from his woodstove.

  Mr. Maxwell’s younger sister didn’t like the idea of his living all alone out in the woods. She worked for the New Hampshire Humane Society, so over the years she had made sure that her big brother always had at least one dog to share his home with.

  Mr. Maxwell’s mother had more specific ideas. She wanted him to get married and have some children. But whenever she told him that, Mr. Maxwell would smile and say, “Mom, remember? I’ve got children—about a hundred and fifty of ’em every year!”

  And five mornings a week, nine months a year, Bill Maxwell drove the quiet country roads from his home to Hardy Elementary School so he could spend the day with his children. The drive in his old blue pickup truck took him an hour in each direction, and more in bad weather, but Mr. Maxwell wouldn’t have had it any other way.

  * * *

  Sitting at his desk on the morning of February thirteenth, the program was still eight weeks away. Growing up, Bill Maxwell had been a Boy Scout, then an Explorer Scout, and finally, an Eagle Scout. He took his Scout motto seriously: Be Prepared. That’s why Mr. Maxwell’s preparations for A Week in the Woods had started back before Thanksgiving.

  He had already signed up eighteen parent volunteers to help with the baggage handling, the cooking, and the chaperoning. He’d driven over to the campground at Gray’s Notch State Park on a Saturday, and then tramped around in the snow to check out the newest cabins and do a careful bunk count. He’d signed a contract with a Native American man, a Penobscot storyteller who was going to give an evening performance that would include some history about the Abenaki and Pennacook tribes. He had even worked out the menu for each of the thirteen meals and the four evening snacks at the park, and had already placed the order for the food deliveries. Plus he’d taken care of about a dozen other details, not to mention writing and revising and assembling the big information packet. He’d had to have the packet ready to hand out to each fifth-grader the day after Christmas vacation, because that had become a tradition too.

  True, a lot of the preparations had been completed by February thirteenth, but the checklist went on and on. So Mr. Maxwell scooted his chair up closer to his desk and got to work.

  Before the morning buses arrived, he’d written a letter to the New Hampshire Fish and Wildlife Service, replied to an e-mail from the State Park Ranger Service, and laid out the schedule of events for day three of A Week in the Woods.

  As his homeroom kids began streaming through the doorway, Mr. Maxwell made three more neat little marks on his checklist, and then put it away in his file drawer until after school. It had been a productive morning.

  * * *

  That same Friday morning, some other preparations were just ending. About
two hundred and seventy miles south and west of Whitson, New Hampshire, something was happening.

  It was something that was going to have an impact on this year’s Week in the Woods, but it wasn’t on Mr. Maxwell’s long checklist. There was no way for him to be prepared, not for this. Mr. Maxwell had no idea what kind of trouble was coming his way.

  But it was. Trouble was definitely headed north.

  Two

  Leaving

  Mark Robert Chelmsley watched from a third-floor window as Leon and Anya packed the last few boxes into the trunk of the long black car.

  This is so stupid, he thought. It’s not like we’re really moving. We’re just . . . leaving.

  Which was true.

  The large brick house in Scarsdale, New York, hadn’t been sold. Everything was staying just as it was—all the furnishings, all the electronics and appliances, even the china and the silverware—all staying put. Mark’s parents had decided it would be good to have a place so close to New York City, so they were going to keep the house.

  And the new house? Simple. The new house was already remodeled and redecorated and completely furnished—everything brand, spanking new. Except for the antiques.

  “This move? There’ll be nothing to it!” That’s what Mark’s mom had said.

  And his dad had nodded and said, “Piece of cake!”

  Easy for them to say, thought Mark. They’re not even here.

  Which was also true.

  Mark’s parents, Robert and Eloise Chelmsley, were running a stockholders meeting in San Francisco.

  “Friday, February thirteenth,” his dad had said with a shrug. “We promised we’d be there, and there’s nothing we can do about it, Mark.”

  It wasn’t that Robert Chelmsley didn’t care about his son’s feelings, because he did. He cared deeply. He could see Mark was upset. But he also thought Mark was old enough now to understand that business is business and a promise is a promise. Plus he had the nagging fear that Mark wasn’t learning to be tough enough to handle the enormous wealth and responsibility he would inherit one day.

  With another shrug he said, “These schedules get set a full year in advance, Mark. One shot deal. And the people who own sixty-five percent of the company have to be there. And that’s your mom and me.”

  That’s why Leon and Anya had been left in charge of the move.

  Mark’s mom always told everyone that Leon was their handyman, and she said that Anya was her housekeeper. Mark knew better. Leon and Anya were baby-sitters. For him. The Russian couple had been hired five years ago, and since then his parents had been free to travel as much as they needed to, which was almost all the time.

  Once it was clear there was nothing he could do to stop the move, Mark had declared that he wanted to take everything. All his stuff. He didn’t want a new room in a new house. He wanted things to be the same. Same bed, same desk, same bookcases and curtains and carpets. Everything.

  Mark’s dad had shouted, “That’s ridiculous!”

  But his mom had patted her husband’s arm and said to Mark, “Dear, I don’t think that’ll be a problem. That’ll be just fine.” Then to her husband she said, “Don’t you think that’ll be all right, Robert?”

  Nodding slowly and smiling ruefully, Mark’s dad said, “Sure. Didn’t mean to yell about it. Whatever’s going to make everyone comfortable is fine with me.”

  So Mark had spent his last week in Scarsdale sleeping in one of the third-floor guest suites, and a team of professional movers had disassembled Mark’s room. They took everything.

  And now that it was time to actually leave, all Mark and Anya and Leon needed to take were two computers, four or five boxes of food, and some clothes.

  Anya called from the front hallway. “Mark? Please come down now. It’s time to go.”

  Mark called back, “In a second.” But he didn’t move.

  Mark’s face felt hot and he swallowed to fight the lumpy feeling in his throat. He had lived here for almost three years, and he’d made a couple of good friends at Lawton Country Day School. He’d grown a couple of inches and had added some muscle to his wiry frame. Now he was leaving, right in the middle of fifth grade. Next year he’d have probably made it on to the sixth-grade lacrosse team. Maybe the soccer team, too.

  Except it had already been decided that he would finish out fifth grade at a public school near the new house. In New Hampshire. And then next year he was going to start sixth grade at Runyon Academy. In New Hampshire.

  Might as well be on the moon, thought Mark.

  Mark had been over all this before. Like, why move now, in the middle of February, with less than half of fifth grade left?

  His dad had said, “Simple. I just bought a company up there near Lebanon, and I want to get the family moved in before the end of the first quarter. There’ll be some nice tax breaks if we establish residency in New Hampshire.”

  His mom had quickly said, “It’s not that, sweetheart. You’ll have just gotten back from the February vacation, and we’ve arranged to have the new house ready then, and February’s going to be the most convenient time for everyone, that’s all. You can make a nice, clean break with your old school, and it’ll give you a chance to settle into the area before you go off to summer camp.”

  Settle into the area? thought Mark. Right, like some hick village is going to be my home sweet home. Once I start at Runyon Academy, I won’t even be there for more than a couple weeks a year!

  Mark had already checked the map by then. The new house was more than sixty miles north of Runyon Academy, much too far for driving to school and back every day. So from sixth grade on, Mark would have to be a boarding student. That had already been decided too.

  “It’ll be good for you, Mark—I know it was good for me. It’ll help toughen you up a little.” That’s what his dad had said about boarding school.

  There hadn’t been any discussion about that. Or about anything. Not with him. Because when it came to Mark Robert Chelmsley and his future, things weren’t discussed. They were decided.

  It was Leon calling him this time. “Mark? Come. Please. Snow is starting, and it’s a long way. It is time now.”

  Mark didn’t answer. He had no reason to hurry. He walked slowly down the front staircase to the second floor and into his empty room.

  Bare walls, bare hardwood floor, empty closet. He went to the window that faced the backyard and raised the shade for a last look. He pulled in a deep breath through his nose, trying to imprint the smell of this room, this house, these years, trying to burn it into his memory. They had been pretty good years, and he wanted to remember everything, exactly.

  But he knew he wouldn’t. In a year or so he wouldn’t remember this home any better than he remembered the house in Santa Fe, or the big apartment in Paris, or the brownstone in Manhattan.

  As he turned to leave, something on the floor caught his eye. It was a penny. He picked it up and looked at the date—same year he was born. He thought, A lucky penny! Then he laughed at himself for thinking something so stupid. Right, because all the lucky kids get to leave a great school and all their friends and go live out in the middle of nowhere! Mark pulled his arm back to toss the penny into his empty closet, then stopped.

  He walked slowly around the edge of the room. He paused next to the tall iron radiator by the other window. Mark bent over, put his shoulder against the radiator, and pushed. It rocked just enough. Out loud, he said, “This’ll do.” His voice sounded hollow in the empty room.

  He pushed again, slid the penny under the front right leg of the radiator, then let it settle back. The penny was completely hidden.

  It’s like a time capsule, he thought. Proof that Mark Chelmsley lived the best three years of his life right here!

  Then Mark ran out of his room and down the front staircase. He pulled the heavy front door shut with a thump, trotted over to where Leon waited for him, and jumped into the backseat of the Mercedes.

  Leon shut Mark’s door then cli
mbed in the driver’s side, fastened his seatbelt, and started the engine. Anya turned around in her seat to smile at Mark, but she knew better than to say anything. She knew what it was to leave things behind.

  As the car swung the wide arc of the brick driveway and then turned onto the road, Mark didn’t look back.

  Next stop, New Hampshire.

  Three

  Not the Same

  Anya shook him gently. “Mark, we’re here.”

  Mark sat up in the backseat and looked around, groggy and confused. Then he climbed out, but he didn’t follow Anya toward the door on the far side of the garage. Instead, he walked to the back of the car.

  He stood on the concrete just inside the garage, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the late afternoon light. Looking around, Mark thought maybe they’d driven to a different planet. The storm that had promised one inch of snow for his old home had dropped eight inches onto his new one.

  His eyes followed the deep tire tracks in the new snow. The twin ribbons marked the narrow roadway that stretched across a field and into a distant stand of pines. Closer to the house, the driveway ran between two fenced pastures, and every fifteen feet or so a pair of tall sticks had been stuck into the ground on either side to help drivers when the snow got deep, like today. The snow had been plowed up high on both sides of the road, evidence of previous snowstorms.

  Looking to his right, Mark saw the front of the original house. The Realtor’s brochure had said the old part of the house had been finished in 1798. The new part had been finished about two weeks ago: five new bedrooms, four new bathrooms, a big family room, a full office suite, an exercise room, an indoor lap pool, and a three-car garage—plus a separate living area for Leon and Anya.

  The new part of the house was almost three times larger than the original, but it didn’t look that way. Except for the garage, the additions had been built onto the back of the house and extended downward along the slope of the land. The only way to see the true size of the place was to walk all the way around it.

 
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