Drafty Draft Draft:
But those thoughts passed. Stephanie had trained herself well to make those thoughts pass. But what she couldn’t let pass, or what would pass of its own accord, was that little itch inside her brain for Darian. But Darian wanted Finn, and she wasn’t Finn, and there wasn’t anything that she could give Darian that would make him want her at this point in time.
The loud, pre-recorded, mechanical ‘ding dong’, from the convenience store door played as Finn and Grant exited, both holding hands with their sandwiches in tow.
Maybe. Stephanie thought. Maybe if I told Darian about Finn and Grant I’d win some kind of points for telling him. Or maybe that would backfire and he would try to stop them. Or maybe he would accept it, and that would help him move on.
Stephanie grabbed a Pepsi and left for the car. (Yes, she paid for the Pepsi).
Parking at the festival was an experience. There wasn’t a parking lot, but instead, a giant plot of dirt that very well could have been a parking lot were someone to have paved it. Dust filled the air as their wheels drove over the gravel, which looked like fog in their headlights as the skies darkened. There were no lines painted anywhere, so it looked much like a Target parking lot after a first snow: an attempt at some kind of organization, but nothing lined up, and several cars had definitely been boxed in.
Fortunately, the Cool Car and the Loser Car managed to arrive at this dusty lot without losing track of one another, so they were able to maneuver their way to the far back of the lot where the hill to the highway rose.
Once parked, all eight clambered out, grabbed their bags (and one giant tent held between Nicky and Stephanie), and headed out.
The lot was situated next to a large wooded area that got thicker and thicker the farther you walked from the road. It wasn’t wilderness. No, when it wasn’t festival season, several different businesses—a paintball company and a few different wilderness retreat companies—used the area. The woods opening was actually quite welcoming.
A path led into the trees, and where it met the lot, a giant arch had been pinned against two tall trees reading:
FOREST ISLAND MUSIC FESTIVAL
“Island?” Francine asked, her head pointed straight up at the sign.
“I don’t know,” Heidi said, continuing forward.
“There better be a mojito somewhere for me,” Stephanie added before the party marched into the forest.
As they passed under the arch, a wave passed over all eight in the party. A sickly sublime stirring. A rushing of blood through every vein. Not hard pumping, but a slick, fast stream, like water through a faucet. A tense, turgid, tumescence throughout the body.
It was ooky spooky and felt by everyone.
The path began up a hill. A very large hill, and a very small path. A hill large enough to make Stephanie start to regret offering to carry Nicki’s absurdly large tent, and a path small enough where it was best to walk single file to avoid bushwhacking.
Heidi took the lead, striding with confidence, joy, and utter ignorance. Al followed close behind, with Francine and Darian right after. Grant and Finn were making a show of trying to hold hands in a front to back sort of way, and Stephanie and Nicky were just trying their hardest not to drop the tent.
As they climbed, they passed through many smells and sounds. The sounds were more diverse, birds, insects, perhaps the crackling of a fire in the distance. The smells were mostly recurring clouds of weed smoke that somehow still lingered in the air.
The hill leveled out and the sounds of the voices grew louder. Yes, they were indeed going in the right direction. The path began to widen while the trees surrounding it began to tighten, allowing the group to spread back out a bit.
“So where are we headed?” Al asked, stopping briefly, only to be clotheslined by Stephanie and Nicki who were both looking in different directions.
“Hmm…” Heidi said. “I was kind of expecting there to be like a ticket taker or somebody to point us in the right direction.
Heidi took out her phone and found, to the surprise of nobody’s but her own, no service.
“Well that’s no good,” she said. “Well I guess now is as good a time as any to hand out the wristbands.
Heidi pulled her bag off her back and rifled through it for a time a bit longer than comfortable, resurfacing with a sandwich bag containing eight wristbands in a reflective purple-green duo-chrome.
“We’ve only got eight, so please don’t lose these,” she said, handing them around. “Though I’m starting to wonder if there’s anyone here actually checking wristbands…”
Grant put on his wristband, and at the request of Finn, helped Finn put on his. Darian had no struggle, and while Francine struggled, she worked through it herself. Nicky and Stephanie pocketed theirs, as they didn’t want to put down the tent.
“The invitation said to show up at campsite 2B, so keep your eyes peeled for that.”
The group continued down the path until they came to an unlabeled fork, and, seeing and hearing people in the near distance, opted to take the right path.
“Excuse me, do you know where campsite 2B is?” Al asked the first passerby they saw.
She was a younger white woman wearing a tie-dye pattern rain poncho, silver wedges, and a headband emblazoned with a logo that looked like a pile of sticks. She gave a passing look of confusion at Al and continued on her way.
“Well that was rather rude,” Al said, as they pressed further into the woods.
The further they moved, the more people they came across, and the more people who were actually willing to speak to them. Judging by the wristbands, they had moved in the right direction, and after a half hour, they had gotten into the thick of things. It wasn’t mosh pit busy, but more like shopping mall on the weekend busy. Don’t stop moving or you might get bumped into.
And that’s when it began to rain. Hard.
“That poncho bitch knew what she was doing,” said Grant.
He unzipped his bag briefly to try and find his own poncho, but when a flood of water began pouring in, he decided to wait until later.
Al was unhappy about the rain. Heidi was a bit embarrassed about being lost in the rain. Finn, Grant, Darian, and Francine, were in the same boat as Al, and Stephanie and Nicky mostly wanted to set down the tent.
Unfortunately, they didn’t have much time to dwell on their dissatisfaction. Most everyone began running for shelter as if a bomb had gone off. The qualifier ‘most’ here is being used to account for the small but not insubstantial number of festival goers who were high out of their minds, peacefully walking through the rain.
But for those who were of clearer mind, the rain was uncomfortable, and the fear of lightning striking a nearby tree, very real. Bodies ran into bodies, people shouted, thunder cracked, and not even fifteen minutes later when the flash flood subsided, everyone was horribly, terribly lost.
“Oh my god, are you Patrick?” Stephanie said, dropping her end of the tent, pulling both the tent, and Nicky to the ground.
Before her stood a very short man with long, grey, curly hair wearing a yellow rain poncho. Stephanie had never met the man before, but Heidi had once told her that Patrick looked like “Gandalf, but much shorter, if he had been raised in the Midwest.” The man she believed to be Patrick glanced down at her wristband, up at Stephanie, smiled and spoke.
“I am! Are you part of Heidi’s crew?”
“We are!” Stephanie said. “The name’s Stephanie.”
Stephanie shook Patrick’s hand. Nicky picked herself off the ground and wiping the wet foliage from her knees. She also introduced herself but did not offer her own hand because it was full of gross.
“I see you two got separated from the group,” Patrick said.
Stephanie and Nicky looked around. This was the first moment they had noticed that everyone else was indeed not surrounding them. They had put so much mental energy into not dropping the tent that they hadn’t really focused on their own whereabouts.
“That’s alright. They’ll find their way eventually,” Patrick said. “Let me bring you to the cabin you’ll be staying in.”
The two were both happy and disappointed to hear that the cabin rumor was true. Happy because glamping is objectively better than traditional camping, but a little disappointed in the effort they had spent carrying the tent all this way. Nicky was especially disappointed as she could rarely find an opportunity to use the tent she so proudly owned.
Patrick produced a radio from underneath his poncho and pressed a button.
“Hey Robin, can you give me a lift? I’ve got two of our guests on the path between Side Stage 2 and the lower ground camping area.”
A buzz of static responded in affirmation, and within a minute, a golf cart came trundling on over through the now, fairly clear, area.
“Hop in friends!” said Robin.
The three hopped on and drove up a hill, down a hill, across a tight trail with many bumpy roots, and at last onto a paved path leading to a series of four spacious, dry looking, cabins.