But, make no mistake Allister was a scout.
To prove it, he had the memories. And the knots. But, oh, the memories.
There were all-day hikes through towering woods. In the summer and into the spring, the canopy of leaves shading him for a few blessed moments from the poking rays of the heated sun. And from the fall into the winter, the weather growing colder, becoming an all-encompassing shade of cold, leaving the leaves jobless. Nothing to do but wilt and fall to the ground. And the scouts would weave through the trees and their carpets of leaves. Following the snow-set tracks of the person in front of them. All the while, following Allister’s tracks, came the dark which brought with it it’s own special cold. A cold the likes of which could only be felt when there was no light.
And camp would be set. A fire started-or was started. Either way, there was a campfire. The scoutmaster had long since bundled and rolled himself in blankets, trapping himself into a cocoon of warmth that brought with it sleep.
And when scouts add night and a campfire together and subtract their scoutmaster, they are left with mischief-with that odd feeling of being afraid and wanting to be more afraid but not wanting to be more afraid. That teetering feeling that leaves you giddily, but shakily checking behind you at every second. And each one, in their own way, wanting it to be over. But, each one, in their own way, wanting it to go on. Each one, feeling the excitement.
Allister, though there were no merit badges to prove it, could still remember all the others and where and how they sat. There was Gabe on a fallen tree all his own, Mickey, Brady who would rather stand than sit, Gus, Ahab Franklin Worthington XXVI whose name was older than him, Soloman Gates, and Ziegfield whom everyone called Ziggy.
Gabe began it all from the fallen tree all his own. Crouched into the frozen bark, his voice hushed and eerie rose from his throat to meet the brisk air in a cold smoke. He spoke of a man and a hatchet and a love of blood and a meeting with Satan and a promise to chop apart children in their family’s basements.
Giggles punctuated the climactic moments. Giggles intended to mask shrieks, but doing little but changing the sound.
Mickey, then Brady who would rather stand than sit, told their tales after. And the darkness was suddenly filled with more than cold. Now, there were hatchet men and fanged and rabid creatures and children who did not know that they were dead lurking around corners and whispering behind each shoulder.
Then, there whispered Gus and Ahab Franklin Worthington XXVI whose name was older than he was and Soloman Gates, adding demons and a mist that rises to choke you and send your mind into hysterics and a bride-to-be who would always be so-who cried and cried in a corner of your room watching you while sleep.
And, after each story, the boys sat in eerie quiet. In eerie darkness. The campfire fought hard to keep them warm and illuminated, their last line of defense against the evil spirits of the night. The boys, tied the most secure of knots-that had earned them their badges- and threw out lines to pull in the courage to go on. Even so, when it came Ziegfield whom everyone called Ziggy’s turn, he could scarcely whisper.
He gulped and said he had, “heard something.” And, though they all knew there was nothing, everyone knew there was something out there and that it wanted them.
Allister's turn brought with it the challenge of topping all those stories. Of shocking even Ziegfield whom everyone called Ziggy’s encompassing present and ongoing tale of their own ends. So, Allister dug deep. Dug beyond what he wanted to share, dug into fears he never knew he had. Dug into the cold, the dark around him. Sunk his teeth into the dark, into the cold around him.
And, when his pause hit the beginning of unbearable silence, Allister said quietly, “What if we all live our lives, these fantastic lives. Perfect lives. All that we’ve wanted, earning all these merit badges and just doing really great things for the world. Then, one day, we get hit by a train and we find that there's no afterlife We just become dirt. Worms eat us and it’s darkness. What if ghosts and spirits aren’t there because there’s nothing after this? There’s just darkness. And I won’t be able to tell you and you won’t be able to tell me before we die because we’ll be nothing anymore. What about that?”.
And nothing else was said. Nothing needed to be. The scouts had long ago froze. Had long ago gave up the knot tying. Had surrendered their courage when their longest rope with the their most secure knot had simply vanished. Allister felt the cold from his thoughts. Felt it in his bones. Felt his marrow chilling. Felt his fingers and toes congealing. Time lost purpose. Somewhere in there, the campfire froze, too. Or the flame died. Darkness filled the silence and, because no one had a lamp, one could see nothing.
And perhaps there’s a limit. Allister thought this later. Perhaps one should only go so far into one’s deepest fears. But, why? If there was more, it should hold up to the questions. Shouldn’t it? If the darkness is so encompassing, why resist it? Why pretend? Is it pretending? If there is a real connection, what’s the fear in asking a question? Allister asked the question not because he believed it. But, because he wanted to delve into that perspective. Set foot in the dark. Because, even there, one wants to believe in the impossible.
The idea of not wanting to believe in magic is an illusion. And to truly know the feeling of light, one must experience the feeling of the dark.
Allister threw his line out as far as he could with a knot so secure that he had earned a merit badge for it. And, though the badge was lost in this toss into darkness, the rope did not disappear. It was too dark to see, of course. But, it was there.
When you are alone, completely alone, the dark and the cold are company. Allister made sure not to forget that. The dark tended to be a perfect backdrop for thoughts. And the cold was a, perhaps not always pleasant, reminder of what kind of company one’s own self can be.
And Allister waited for the tug from out of the darkness that seemed to never arrive, but did arrive. He drew in the line as his comrades surrendered deep into their fears. Allister drew in his line until he could see the end.
The rope had lassoed around a firefly. And Allister cupped his hands around the firefly, blew warmth into his hands, and brought his hands down to the memorial of their onetime campfire. He blew a little harder and the glow on the firefly caught wind of the warmth and grew brighter and brighter until the smaller twigs understood the idea and torched the bigger branches.
A fire was born for Allister as the firefly narrowly escaped an end and flew off into the darkness. And from the birth of the glow, Ahab Franklin Worthington XXVI whose name was older than he was, asked a question that had disappeared from their minds when the darkness had crept in. But, there is was again now that they were back. And, so, Ahab Franklin Worthington XXVI whose name was older than he was asked:
“You guys wanna stick Scoutmaster Abrams finger in warm water?"