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Falling for Perfection

The city of Danville baked under a late July heat wave. Standing under the hot sun, Milo hefted his hiking pack to sit higher on his shoulders and let his backpack swing idly from his right hand as Zack, Melissa and Amanda piled out of the battered old Range Rover and collected their hiking packs from the trunk. Milo watched as his three friends hoisted their hiking packs, which were loaded with everything they would need for a week of camping in Coyote Woods, from tents to wolf repellent to food and toilet paper. Milo walked around to the driver’s side door. His father, Martin Murphy, rolled down the window.

“Bye Dad,” said Milo.

“Bye Milo,” said Martin. “I’ll be back to in a week to pick you up.”

“OK, Dad,” replied Milo. He turned and walked away from where Martin had parked, leading Zack, Melissa and Amanda toward the trailhead. The four teenagers disappeared into the cool shade of the trees, their shoes crunching loudly on the gravel lined hiking path. They walked for about an hour and a half, talking, laughing and trading jokes. For Milo, it was at times like these, simply talking and laughing with his friends, “the three best friends in the world,” as he frequently called them, that he felt the closest to being a normal teenager. Milo had been born with an unusual hereditary condition, Extreme Hereditary Murphy’s Law. Put simply, Murphy’s Law said that anything that can go wrong inevitably will, and things were constantly going wrong in Milo’s life. Extreme Hereditary Murphy’s Law caused Milo’s body to create a field of negative probability, which automatically skewed all energy fields in Milo’s immediate vicinity toward negative outcomes. Camping was one of the few activities that Milo could partake where the risk of Murphy’s Law turning his life into utter chaos was relatively low.

Milo, Zack, Melissa and Amanda reached their campsite sometime around mid morning. It consisted of a grassy clearing bordered by a sandy beach, which led down into a crystal clear lake, on one side and close growing trees on the other side. Several nature trails snaked away into the woods. A small cinderblock building containing a bathroom and an attached shower stood in one corner and a picnic table with faded and peeling paint stood in the other. A large fire pit dominated the centre of the campsite.

Milo surveyed their campsite. “Looks like a good spot,” he said. He dropped his backpack and let his hiking pack fall to the ground next to it with a heavy thud. Next to him, Zack, Melissa and Amanda were putting down their packs. Milo stretched his shoulders, feeling his spine decompress, after being relieved of the weight of his hiking pack. He bent over, unzipped his hiking pack and began rummaging through its contents, pulling out a camping stove and cylinder of propane, a tightly rolled sleeping bag, tent pegs and a rubber mallet. He tried to toss them to Zack, who was busy laying out their tent. Melissa and Amanda had already finished and were blowing up their air mattresses. The tent pegs landed in the dirt next to Zack’s right foot. The rubber mallet struck Zack’s foot, ricocheted off and struck the foot pump that Amanda had been using to blow up her air mattress, breaking the pedal.

Amanda walked over to where Milo and Zack were hammering the tent pegs into the ground. “Milo, our air pump is broken,” she said.

Milo looked up. “I packed an extra one in my backpack,” he said, nodding with his head toward his backpack. At the same moment, Zack missed his blow with the mallet and instead of coming down on the head of the tent peg, it came down on Milo’s hand and he felt something snap in his wrist. 

Zack had the good grace to look slightly shame faced. “Sorry, Milo,” he said.

Milo gave a characteristic causal shrug. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “It’s just Murphy’s Law.” Milo turned to Amanda, “can you get me my splint and bandages?” Amanda nodded and walked over to Milo’s backpack, which was hardly ever out of his sight. She bent down and began rummaging through it, pushing aside sundry items, including flashlights, batteries, sandals, Milo’s board shorts, extra food, his toothbrush, a bar of soap and cooking utensils. She pulled out the extra foot pump, which she put on the ground and resumed rummaging, pushing aside his grappling hook, which was attached to a long length of rope and found his first aid kit, which included, among other things, splints, pain killers and bandages. Zack held the splint steady as Milo wrapped his forearm in a tensor bandage and pulled it tight. He could feel the bones grating against each other as they were forced back into place. He reached into his first aid kit again and pulled a bottle of pain killers. Milo popped a couple pills into his mouth and washed them down with a swig or water from his canteen. The throbbing in his wrist began to ebb almost at once.

It took the rest of the morning to finish unpacking all their gear and setting up the campsite.  After lunch, which consisted of peanut butter sandwiches, they changed into their bathing suits and spent the afternoon alternately splashing around in the water and sunning themselves on the crescent shaped sandy beach. In the late afternoon, Zack tried his hand at fishing with Milo’s rod and tackle box and actually managed to catch several large mouth bass and as a result, they had an excellent dinner that night of freshly caught fish and they turned in tired and happy.

When the sun came up the next morning, the four of them got up early. After an early breakfast and a early morning swim. They spent the morning hiking the natural trails that snaked away into the woods and exploring around their campsite. The area was filled with wild life and they spotted blue jays, cardinals and hummingbirds flitting among the redwood trees. In midmorning they caught a brief glimpse of a family of deer nibbling on the bushes that lined the edge of a large beaver pond. In the afternoon, Milo, Zack, Melissa and Amanda returned to their campsite. They spent the afternoon swimming and fishing. On the third day, they tried to go canoeing, but that only lasted until Murphy’s Law caused Amanda to put her foot through the bottom of the canoe, dumping all of them into the middle of the lake and forcing them to swim back to shore. They spent the afternoon drying their clothes on a clothes line that Melissa set up between a pair of trees.

 Milo, Zack, Melissa and Amanda were up extra early on the fourth day of their camping trip. They left camp just before the sun came up. By the light of a headlamp, Milo produced a clean pair of socks from his hiking pack and pulled them on over his bare feet. He rummaged in his hiking pack again and pulled out a pair of sturdy looking hiking boots. He pulled them on over his feet and cinched up the laces extra tight. Milo generally didn’t wear anything with shoelaces, as he had long since found that untied shoelaces to be a source of Murphy’s Law related complications in his life. His hiking boots were one of the few exceptions that he made to this rule, as he had never been able to find laceless hiking boots. He triple knotted his laces and crawled out of his tent.

When he got outside, he found Melissa and Amanda yawning and waiting in the early morning gloom. The still morning air echoed slightly with birdsong and the hum of insects. The warbling cry of a loon echoed from somewhere across the lake. The sky behind the trees was painted with the pre-dawn glow of the rising sun. Milo turned at the sound of the door to the cinderblock outhouse opening and the banging shut as Zack walked casually across the campsite, his hiking boots crunching in the dirt. He walked up to where Milo, Melissa and Amanda stood waiting and stifled a yawn. “Morning,” he said sleepily. The other three said “Morning, Zack,” in return.

After a quick breakfast, Milo hefted his backpack onto his shoulders and Zack, Melissa and Amanda picked up their hiking packs and the four of them set off down the trail toward Mount Danville. Today was the last full day of their camping trip and they were going to attempt to hike to the summit of Mount Danville. Mount Danville, from which the city got its name, was a 3,000 foot spur of granite which over looked downtown Danville and marked the border between Coyote Woods and the much larger Danville Forest. As the sun began to come up, the early morning light cast the woods into a dappled mix of light and shade. Milo felt completely at peace. Aside from his broken wrist, and the incident with the canoe, he had actually managed to go a whole week without having to deal with Murphy’s Law. He could count on one hand the number of times in his life that that had happened to him. The last several days of camping, hiking, fishing and swimming with the three people that he valued most had been as close to a complete escape from the pressures that Murphy’s Law often placed on Milo, as the hapless teenager could ever hope to get.

By the time the four teenagers emerged from the woods, the sun was well above the horizon. The gravel hiking trail wound its way across a broad plain toward a tall granite spur in the distance. As they got closer to Mount Danville, the angle of the trail became steeper and soon even Milo, who was relative fit for his age and build, found himself huffing slightly under the weight of his backpack. By about the half way point, Milo could feel his leg muscles starting to cramp and he called a stop.

“It’s OK if you don’t make it to the top,” said Melissa.

“Yeah, we can always come back next year,” suggested Amanda.

Milo shook his head. He was suddenly feeling bullheaded. “No,” he said emphatically. “We’ve come this far, we’re going to finish.” Milo kept walking, ignoring the cramps in his calf muscles. For a second Amanda looked as if she wanted to say something else, but Zack and Melissa caught her eye. Both of them shook their heads. Milo’s blood was up. It was best to let him work it off in his own way.

Milo, Zack, Melissa and Amanda reached the summit on Mount Danville just before noon. The summit was dominated by a large circular observation platform that offered commanding views of the surrounding area. The skyscrapers of downtown Danville glinted in the afternoon sun.

Milo stood at the edge, enjoying the view of Danville Forest, which stretched away into the distance like a thick green carpet. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Zack walking over to join him.

“You OK, Milo?” asked Zack.

Milo nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine, Zack, I guess I just got a little ahead of myself.”

“Amanda’s right, you know,” replied Zack. “You don’t need to push yourself.”

Milo nodded again. “OK, Zack,” he said. “I’ll slow down next time, I promise.”

They began to work their way back down the trail an hour later. They went more slowly this time, hiking about half way down and diverting off of the main trail to the end of a long granite outcrop that jutted out into Danville Forest. They stayed there for around half an hour enjoying the distant view of Mount Danville, before resuming their hike back down the mountain. They reached their campsite mid afternoon and after a late afternoon swim, ate dinner and turned in for the night.

Milo, Zack, Melissa and Amanda were all up early the next morning. After a quick breakfast, they set about breaking down the camp. It took them less time to pack their gear than it did to set up camp a week ago. Milo folded and packed his soiled clothing in the bottom of his hiking pack and systematically packed his tackle box, fishing rod, left over food, camp stove and garbage in his hiking pack. Together he and Zack took down their tent and stowed it in Zack’s hiking pack. Milo repacked the tent pegs in his backpack, which he buckled to the top of his hiking pack. He picked up his two backpacks and with only a little difficulty levered the on to his back. He had to bend forward slightly in order to ensure that the whole load was properly balanced over his centre of gravity. Milo, Zack, Melissa and Amanda each took a last look around to make sure that they hadn’t forgotten anything. When that was done, Milo settled his load more squarely on to his shoulders and the four teenagers began walking back to the parking lot.

Sara was waiting in the gravel parking lot with the battered old Range Rover when Milo, Zack, Melissa and Amanda arrived at the trail head toward mid morning.

“Hey little bro,” she said cheerfully as the four teenagers walked up to the car.

“Oh, hi Sara,” said Milo, giving his sister a hug through the open driver’s side window.

“So, is there a good war story to go with that?” she asked, pointing at his bandaged right forearm.

Milo regarded his bandaged forearm for a second or two, as though he had only just noticed it was there. He had wrapped his wrist after Zack had broken it and largely forgotten about it. “Not really,” he said, shrugging, “broken wrist courtesy of Murphy’s Law and a rubber mallet.”

The four teenagers stumped around to the trunk, where they unceremoniously dumped their hiking packs. Milo unbuckled his backpack from his hiking pack and dumped it on the floor in front of the passenger’s seat next to Sara. He climbed into the front seat and shut the door while Zack, Melissa and Amanda piled into the middle row. The door shut with a bang and Sara turned the key in the ignition. The engine rumbled to life and she backed out of the parking lot.

The drive from Coyote Woods back to Danville took around half an hour. Sara chattered away continuously with her brother and his friends during the entire drive. As he listened to Sara trading jokes with Zack, Melissa and Amanda and laughing at the various mishaps and misadventures the four of them had experience over the past week, Milo felt a deep sense of contentment. He was with the four people who mattered to him most. She dropped off Zack first and then Melissa before driving downtown to drop Amanda off at her parents’ apartment building.

Sara pulled over in front of a sleek postmodern apartment block. Amanda got out and on impulse Milo got out as well and walked with her to the back of the vehicle. He opened the trunk, reached in and handed Amanda her hiking pack. He studiously ignored Sara, who he knew was watching her brother in the rear view mirror.

“Thanks, Milo,” said Amanda.

“I’m glad you came,” he said.

“Yeah,” said Amanda. She gave Milo a hug. “It was fun.” Amanda shouldered her pack and walked into her building. Milo climbed back into the front seat next to Sara and shut the door.

Sara looked at her brother. Milo was trying to pretend that nothing had happened. “You could do a lot worse than Amanda Lopez,” she said.

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