Listen to this story:
Fiction by Yona Zeldis McDonough
Illustrations by James Bernardin
Bye, Mom! Bye, Dad!”
Will doesn’t even wait for his parents’ car to drive off before he lopes back to the bunk. He’s been dreaming for months about his weeklong stay at Scout camp and now he’s finally here. Sweet!
At the screen door, he collides with two of his bunk mates, Bryan and Joe.
“We’re going to play Frisbee. You in?” The guys have never been too friendly before but they sure seem friendly now.
“You bet,” says Will.
Outside, the three boys play a heated game. By the time they head over to the campfire for the cookout, Will feels like they’re not just troop mates, they’re friends.
Will scarfs down three hot dogs, two hamburgers and six s’mores — delicious. But back in the bunk, he starts to feel sick. He hopes he can hold it until — whoops. No such luck. He throws up all over the floor.
“Eww!” says Joe.
“Gross!” Bryan adds.
Mortified, Will slips off to clean up.
In the morning, the campers are woken with a bugle call. Will bolts upright, unsure for a minute where he is.
“Hey, Billy Barf,” says Bryan. “Plan on throwing up today?”
“Billy Barf,” Joe repeats. “Good one.”
And just like that, Will has a nickname. All day long, it’s Billy Barf this and Billy Barf that. Will thinks he’ll explode if he hears it again.
That’s not the only thing that goes wrong. The swimming test is super hard and he has to take it three times before he passes. There are spiders in the bunk and Will detests, absolutely detests spiders. The next day he muffs an easy shot at volleyball, costing his team the game.
Worst of all is that he’s homesick. It’s like the first day of pre-K all over again. But then he was 4 and now he’s 13. He’s only been here two days and it feels like a month.
How will he ever get through the rest of the week? Tears fill his eyes. Angrily, he swipes them away. “Crybaby” is an even worse nickname than “Billy Barf.”
For the next few days, things don’t improve. There are still spiders, and he still hears Billy Barf all day long. Also, Will’s favorite T-shirt, the one his older brother brought him from that concert, goes missing. He wanders into a patch of poison ivy and in his hasty retreat, stumbles into a bee hive. Now he’s itchy and bumpy.
Finally, the week is drawing to a close. The Scouts are going on an overnight hike in the woods. Despite everything, Will is looking forward to it. Maybe this will change his feeling about camp.
But when they set out, he’s not so sure. For one thing, his pack feels like it’s been stuffed with rocks. Then it starts to rain. The guys all have ponchos, but Will discovers his has a great big hole. So now he’s getting wet, too.
Could this day get any worse? He doesn’t think so.
They finally reach the place where they’re going to pitch their tents. At least Will can put down his heavy backpack. He and Zach, another boy from the troop, are sent off to look for firewood. Will spies some twigs peeking out from under a pile of leaves. Maybe the leaves kept the wood dry.
He begins brushing them aside to see and comes face to face with a red fox. From the strange angle of the animal’s back leg, Will can see that it’s broken.
Zach comes up behind him. “Wow,” he says. “A real live fox.”
“It’s a kit,” says Will.
“Huh?” Zach says.
“A baby,” Will explains. “See how his ears and nose are kind of short?”
“How do you know that?” Zach asks.
Will shrugs. “I like reading about animals. They’re cool.”
“So what do we do?” asks Zach.
Will is torn. He knows enough not to touch a wild creature — it’s way too dangerous. But he can’t just leave the fox either — it’s clear that the small frightened animal with the big dark eyes is suffering. Help me, those eyes say. Please.
All the other campers have gathered around now, and they’re excitedly talking and pointing at the fox. Will turns around.
“You have to be quiet,” he says. “You’re scaring him.”
The guys quiet down as Will tries to remember what his mom would do now. She’s a vet, and she’s dealt with the broken legs of dogs and cats plenty of times. A fox isn’t so different.
Thinking about his mom leads to another thought: the animal rescue center that’s not too far from here — he remembers she mentioned it on the drive up. He takes out his phone, but there’s no reception. The call will have to wait.
All evening long, Will wishes he could check on the kit, but he knows he should stay away. Still, he knows exactly where he is and can feel his presence.
In the morning, as the Scouts are getting ready to leave, Will cuts up his red bandana. He ties the first piece on a bush right next to the kit. Then he ties the rest onto the branches they pass, creating an easy trail leading to the animal.
Once they’re back, he calls the animal rescue center and they send someone to get the kit. Later that day, Cindy from the center stops by camp and Will’s entire troop gathers around. She has the kit in a cardboard box lined with soft bedding. The strips of the red bandana are in there, too.
“Super smart idea to use the markers,” says Cindy. “We found him right away.”
“Will thought of that,” says Zach.
“Great job, Ranger Will.” Cindy smiles.
And just like that, Billy Barf is gone and it’s now Ranger Will.
Later, when he scores in the volleyball game, his team cheers for Ranger Will. When Zach and some of the others want to hear more stuff about animals, they gather round to listen to Ranger Will.
The next day, camp is over. Will’s parents arrive to take him home.
“How’d you like it, champ?” asks his dad. “Did you have fun?”
“It was amazing,” says Will. “Can I come back next year?”