Another Ten Seconds
Chapter 8: Activity Suggestion

by Jeff Rand

Shortly after the meeting in the Beaver Creek Building, most of the Winter Campers moved outdoors for the day's events. The Arrowmen were to be divided into two teams to compete in the morning activity. The teams would test their ingenuity and survival skills in "The Conquest of Mars."

Curiously, the idea for this game was introduced 30 years previously on November 19, 2000, using the relatively young medium of the Internet. The details for the game were described in the 5th edition of the Scoutmaster's Handbook, first published in 1959. According to the handbook, one team represented the earth invaders and the other the native Martians. As with any of humankind's conquests, the invaders sought to gain for themselves the Martian resources, necessary for their survival.

Everyone in attendance, except perhaps Mr. Oatley, was quite familiar with this planetary neighbor of earth. Just 14 months ago on October 7, 2029, man finally set foot on Mars. It had taken more than 60 years since Neil Armstrong's first lunar step before this next planetary body lost its virginity to human invaders. Unfortunately, there were no Martians on hand to defend their territory when this landing occurred.

As Stephan Clark, Jr. explained the rules of the conquest event, each team was given a sealed envelope of instructions. The teams quickly departed for their territories to read the instructions and establish their bases.

Perhaps Mr. Oatley had expected more interest in his reappearance, but to most he was just another old timer who would be a distraction from the planned activities. He was therefore surprised that only a handful of senior citizens chose not to join the game, remaining at the cabin for further mutual interrogation.

Dave Milon, who was among the last of the Troop 842 Scouts called "Oatley Children," posed the first question. He began, "Harold, if I might be so bold, please tell me of this secret room in your basement."

Mr. Oatley responded, "David, you are brash in your questioning. Please call me Mr. Oatley. Even my long departed parents properly referred to me as mister. The room you never discovered was located beneath the enclosed porch that had been added to the rear of the house. It had a concealed entrance from the rest of the basement, but also an access door from the room above. I recall an incident where two of you boys nearly discovered its location. I had gone upstairs and left Douglas Wilson and Jeffrey Rand alone in the basement. They had been using my camera equipment to take pictures for an upcoming O-A event. Something made me suspicious about these two, thus I decided to enter my secret room through the upstairs access. From there I was able to monitor their activities through a special viewing window. I watched the two young men probing my basement, taking pictures with my camera. Always one to be especially curious, young Douglas came perilously close to discovering my secret."

Doug gasped a bit. He recalled the incident clearly and thought he had outsmarted the "Old Goat" when he convinced Mr. Oatley to have the mail order slides sent directly to Jeff's house.

Doug spoke, "You really are Mr. Oatley. No one else would have that knowledge."

All eyes looked around the room, as Jeff nodded in agreement.

Mark Bollman, who was quick to interpret the verification of authenticity, joined the conversation saying, "I think I'll put a pot on the stove, so that we can all enjoy a cup of piping hot coffee."

Showing his disdain for first names of just one part, Mr. Oatley responded, "Thank you Mark Edward, I would prefer an ice cold glass of milk instead. I've not had a cup of coffee since 1937. Prior to that, I tried one in 1925 during my reckless youth."

John Howey was alone in Clearwater when he woke. Again his waking was a difficult process and his eyesight murky, before he was able to perceive his whereabouts. Reluctantly he got up from his bunk, plagued by a mild sense of disorientation and the ever-present headache. Stepping onto to the floor, he experienced the sensation of a flash of light.

John realized that he was alone and it might be appropriate to find out what had happened. He remembered meeting Mr. Oatley before blacking out. Presumably he was brought to his bunk to recover. Then there was the experience of lying down with something stuck to his head. "Were his friends playing tricks on him when he was unconscious? He had to find out," he thought.

John moved across the quiet room to the front door, choosing to walk the short distance to the BC Building. As he opened the door, he saw a quick flash of red against a nearly perfect white, but hazy landscape. Although it was now full daylight, he could not see quite clearly, as if suffering snow blindness. He proceeded quickly along the trail, eager to find the others. He did want to be alone.

John entered the BC Building happy to see the group gathered in the main room. The room was quiet as he looked at the inhabitants. He could see clearly enough to identify the people and objects in the room, but his apparent snow blindness made it appear as if they were in a smoky haze. John identified Mr. Oatley standing in the corner.

Suddenly as Mr. Oatley was about to speak, John experienced another visual sensation. This time he saw a group of dark blue spots, as if he were looking at the scene through a window that had smudged with paint. John was horrified as the spots oscillated in intensity for a few seconds.

Now very frightened, John said, "What has happened?"

The real shock came as he spoke. Certain that he was uttering the question, he could not hear himself at all. Furthermore, he experienced another flash of color. "Oh my God, I can't hear!" he shouted.

This group of veterans had certainly played a variety of tricks on each other over years, and had been known to put on some very good acts. Most people experience real terror at some point in their lives and no matter how good the actor, they can discern the genuine emotion in others. There was no doubt in their minds or expressions as to knowing that John was truly frightened.

Tim Hunt was the first to approach John. He faced John and inquired, "What's wrong buddy?"

John heard nothing of Tim's question. Rather he experienced flashes of red light, as Tim spoke. Again John shouted, "I can't hear anything?"

As the others in room realized this revelation, a bit of pandemonium erupted. For John it was a light show of chaotic colors. "Please help me!" he said.

Mr. Oatley sprang to his feet, in a quick move for a man of his age. He spoke, "I'll get my first aid kit."

Ron Donohue, who was seated next to Mr. Oatley, stood up and grabbed the old man before he had a chance to leave. Ron had gained a reputation for keeping a cool head in the face disaster ever since his actions in helping quell the famous Palm Beach County riots.

Ron spoke, "I think this will require more than a first aid kit. We better get Dr. Bob to have a look at him."

Tim Hunt happened to have his satcom in his pocket and pulled it out to call Dr. Bob. Dr. Bob had gone to the Beaver Creak high country with the majority of the Winter Campers to participate in the "Conquest of Mars" activity. Tim quickly scrolled through the list of names on the small screen of his satcom to find Dr. Bob. When he found the correct entry he pushed the enter button to initiate the call. Almost instantaneously the main satcom in the BC Building buzzed to indicate an incoming call.

"Damn!" said Tim, not bothering to answer what was assumed to be his own call. "He didn't take his satcom with him."

Apparently Dr. Bob, like many the Winter Campers who lived through the cell phone era, preferred not to be constantly subjugated to a communications device. While everyone had his own satcom and assigned number, it was common to transfer the number to one's home or office system when present at these places. Dr. Bob had transferred his number to the BC system during his stay at Winter Camp.

Tim spoke again, "I'll have to go find him."

Mark Bollman rose to leave with Tim and said, "Another pair of eyes may expedite the process."

While Tim and Mark gathered their coats, the others moved towards John to offer comfort. John sat down and lowered his head. He closed his eyes and placed his hands on his face.

In barely audible voice, John said, "Please, just don't say anything."

It took nearly an hour for Tim and Mark to locate Dr. Bob sitting high in a tree overlooking the Great Beaver Creek Swamp. Mark Hunt was nearby and joined the trio as they quickly proceeded back to the cabin. Tim provided the details regarding John's unusual behavior as they hiked.

When the party returned to the BC building, they found a very somber group seated quietly in the main room. Dr. Bob motioned to the others to keep their distance as he approached John. He tapped John on the shoulder. "What's wrong?" he said.

John, not knowing exactly what was said, responded nevertheless, "I can't hear."

Dr. Bob gestured to John to follow him, as he also nodded in the direction of Mark Hunt. Mr. Oatley, who was a bit set back by the group's refusal to accept his offer of first aid service, remained with the others as the three left the room.

Dr. Bob led John and Mark to the control center where they sat down at a computer console. He activated the word processor and speech recognition software. "Now, what's wrong?" he said as his words appeared on the screen."

"I can not hear anything," said John in a low voice.

"OK. When did it start?"

"Just over an hour ago, when I woke up."

"Do you have any other symptoms?" said Dr. Bob.

"Please don't talk so loud," said John.

"Why, you can't hear," said Dr. Bob, complying with John's request.

"I'm afraid," said John.

"Oh, I suspect it's just temporary. You'll get your hearing back soon," said Dr. Bob.

"You don't understand. I can't hear, but I see strange colors when you speak."

Mark Hunt looked at Dr. Bob with an expression of disbelief. Dr. Bob, too, paused for a moment.

Finally he spoke, "You see colors when you should be hearing sounds?"

"Yes," said John.

"Tell me John, have you been taking drugs down at Clearwater?" said Dr. Bob.

"Oh right, I had a lid of LSD just last night. You know that no one does drugs anymore."

Dr. Bob spoke cautiously, "John, you seem to be suffering from a case synaesthesia. It is quite rare, usually induced by drugs. I've never actually seen a case before. There are some other causes, which we might explore. I suggest you be taken to Lapeer General."

"Synaesthesia?" said Mark, speaking into the microphone.

Dr. Bob explained, "It's essentially a short circuiting of the senses, where the brain perceives a stimulus received by one sense as if it had been received by another. Obviously, there could be any combination of exchanged senses. Hallucinations resulting from auditory stimuli are perhaps the most common, but other examples have been observed. Psychologists performed some experiments late in the last century, where they rerouted nerves in the brains of lab rats to get the them to smell sounds."

John interrupted, "I am not eager to go to the hospital. Perhaps you can give me an aspirin or something. After all I do have a headache."

"John, tell me, have you suffered a recent blow to the head?" said Dr. Bob.

"Not that I recall," said John.

"Have you suffered any recent memory loss?"

John continued, "I don't think so. I have had some weird and very real dreams during my blackouts, though. And as I was thinking last night, I've had an uneasy feeling about things lately. For example, I remember the events of yesterday and last year quite well, but I have trouble recalling the events of Winter Camp 50. It was such a big event for us and I don't remember anything after the banquet celebration and time capsule ceremony held on the first day."

"Well, these Winter Camps do tend to blend together and it's hard to separate the specific details. Why don't you head down to Clearwater? I will join you there in a few minutes," said Dr. Bob.

John obliged and left the room.

"Curious," said the doctor.

"How so?" said Mark.

"He has the symptoms of this unusual disorder, and even with his blackouts, I can see no factors to cause it."

"You know," said Mark, "I'm not sure I recall doing anything after the Winter Camp 50 banquet, either."

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