Part 5: NOT ALONE
PART 5: NOT ALONE
Could there really be someone else like me nearby, trapped in a hellish summer camp nightmare? I have so many questions, but can only fit a few in my reply.
The next challenge is how do I get a response back to her? With the wind blowing westward, a balloon of my own would drift the wrong direction- away from Penny, and besides, where would I get a helium balloon? My mind's racing but I pause when I vaguely remember Nook selling a child's slingshot at his store. A crazy idea occurred to me.
I purchase the slingshot as casually as possible. Honestly, I don't think Nook cares what I do anymore. A few days ago I noticed an axe on display.
It must have been a mistake. Was he really cocky enough to sell me a weapon? Was he taunting me?
One of these days, Nook.
Anyway, using the largest hollow seashell I can find, I tuck my folded up note inside and draw a glaring red X on the outside. I head to the eastern rock wall.
With all the strength an exhausted child can muster I raise my slingshot and let my message-in-a-shell fly over the artificial-looking wall. I was lucky, it cleared the peak. On the wind I could faintly hear the crumbling of loose gravel as it tumbled down the other side. I prayed my hunch would pay off.
And once again I was forced to wait, forced to rely on the good will of a stranger who would inevitably let me down.
When I wasn't digging I was staring to the east, praying for the slightest hint of the sun glistening off of a shiny, inflated orb. I ran through all the hundreds of scenarios that would lead to my inevitable disappointment. Maybe Penny was caught and punished. Maybe she doesn't exist. Maybe she's actually hundreds of miles away. Maybe she never found my letter, for all I know it could be sitting on an empty plot of dirt, never to be seen again.
The chance that she'd find it and send another balloon message was one in a million.
And today I had won the lottery.
I ran like a starving lioness chasing a gazelle.
With my free time I had been practicing my slingshot skills and now I was a crack shot. In just two thwangs the package came tumbling down. I scooped it up giddily and snuck back to my house, tearing into the wrapping with the closest thing to unbridled joy I had felt since I got here. It was like Christmas day for POWs.
This time she had sent me a bottle filled with dirt along with her letter. Over time I came to realize that the items in the box were meaningless. All they did was weigh down the helium balloon enough so it wouldn't float off into the sun. The letters were the real treasure.
In the next few weeks, Penny and I wrote each other in this way constantly and only operated at nighttime. She told me she used to send messages out on the ocean in bottles but she had been caught and punished severely. For her birthday her residents offered to get her one present of her choice and she had said that all she really wanted was one balloon every day until her next birthday to "lift" her spirits. She's a clever girl.
We started getting into the details of each others' lives, what was the same and what was different. We both had freaky animal-like residents that would move in and leave at seemingly random times. We both had the same buildings. To my surprise and creeping horror, both of our towns were run by a raccoon calling himself Tom Nook, though Penny tells me he used to be there every day and now she'd only see him once a week, at best.
We discuss the details of our camps. They sound very similar, so I ask her to send me a drawing of her town in the next letter. While I waited, I drew out a map of my own camp to send back.
Though I had long ago become jaded by fucked up events in this camp, I have to admit, my stomach twisted when I finally saw her response.
Except for a few tiny differences, it was almost identical to my map.
Horror started to slink back into my addled brain as a few puzzle pieces came together. I wrote back to Penny that night.
Between Penny and myself, we got to work, slowly sending messages blindly in every direction with notes asking to spread the word. I borrowed some of her balloons and set them adrift in different directions.
To equal delight and disgust we started getting responses from every side.
Jack, Sarah, Aaron, Jimmy, Phillip, Emily… names were starting to roll in and most of them were confused and surprised that there was anyone else out there at all. Some were just a few weeks into their ordeal; some had been captives for years.
All of them were scared.
I started receiving balloon packages at an alarming rate. I began to worry that someone would notice.
We requested maps from our new friends in an attempt to figure out where we were or a way to escape. As various drawings started to come together, I never got used to the fact that they were all virtually carbon copies, all walled-in outdoor cages. I was surprised to find myself start to get excited. Maybe between all of us we can do it! Maybe we really can escape from this hell! But something was bothering me logistically. Something didn't make sense about these maps. I decided to conduct an experiment.
I had borrowed a lot of blank patterns from our seamstress, who was starting to get a little suspicious of my new-found interest in fashion design.
On each square I began piecing together the maps I had gotten, drawing in their locations as closely as I could figure. I used blue to show the beach area and brown lines to show the camp walls. Little white lines marked the gate leading out of each camp. It turns out the camps shared walls, which, luckily for us was the only thing that allowed Penny to find my messages.
I put a big "X" over my camp and an "O" on Penny's. Over time, the bigger image started to form in my head. Trying to figure out where everyone was located in relation to each other was turning out to be tricky and I had to break it out into several larger sheets. I needed a space wide enough to lay all this out and get a good look.
In the dead of night I dragged out my creation behind the museum where nobody would see me and started to put together the puzzle I had stitched together thanks to the work of dozens of small, bruised and bleeding hands.
Crap, how big is this place?
Oh no. OH GOD NO. please don't be right...
For the first time in months I fell to my knees and cried.