I was amazed at how the vision for this land was forming before my eyes. The conversations I had had with actual inhabitants were another level of magic. My notebook was full of vivid descriptions of this incredible place.
“Umm…does anyone know how we get out of here?” asked Mel. “I kind of need to use the bathroom.”
I laughed and looked around. I’d been walking for a good distance, and what used to be an empty landscape was now filled with trees, rivers, wildlife, and even a brilliant waterfall. “Let’s head back the way we came and see if we can figure out how to get back to camp.”
The return trek felt much faster than making our way here. When we got back to where we had started, I noticed what seemed like a thin veil of mist stretched across the horizon directly in front of me. I reached my hand out to touch it, and felt the same warmth in my heart. I took a step through, and was suddenly back at camp, having stepped just outside the fire.
“Dex! You missed it! What happened?” Mel called from behind me. I looked around and caught Dex and Rosin at the distant edge of the fire ring, talking. Looked a little tense.
Dex waved back with a smile. Rosin looked back over her shoulder, then turned and guided Dex up the trail away from the fire ring.
Taylor pulled out the last envelope in their stack and began to read.
You are now ready to truly find your wildling.
“Woo hoo!” I shouted. Far from being the only one caught up in the enthusiasm, I heard a smattering of “Finally!”
Go back to your tents and get your packs, then meet at the deck of the lodge in 30 minutes.
It’s natural to feel hesitation to venture out into the wilderness in the dark with such light packing, but know that among each other and the wilderness itself, you already have everything you need.
An electric sense of excitement ran like a wave through the group. We each took off in the direction of our tents.
After retrieving my pack, I made my way to the lodge. As I stepped out onto the deck, I saw Rosin standing next to a burning torch at the edge of the deck, looking out into the night.
She turned and smiled when she saw me. Neither of us said a word; the silence felt sacred. I took a seat and waited for the rest of the group to arrive. I noticed other campers joining, too.
“Do you think we’re really going to create the world we saw in the fire?” whispered a camper named Alex I recognized from the tent next to mine. “Is that where our wildling is leading us?” Their group must have gone through the fire earlier today, too.
One by one, the entire camp seemed to be showing up. As each person arrived, they also sat in contemplative silence.
Minutes went by. Rosin began to look nervous. Dex and Mel still hadn’t arrived, and it was a quarter of an hour past the time we were supposed to meet back together.
After ten minutes longer, Rosin pulled me aside.
“I’m concerned Dex and Mel aren’t here yet,” she said. “I know you’re all friends—would you mind heading back to their tents to see if you can find them? Take someone with you when you go.”
I caught Taylor’s attention. In response the quizzical look on their face, I gestured for them to come with me.
Taylor and I made our way to Mel’s tent first. I looked around the camp as we walked, but saw no sign of them. We reached Mel’s tent and spoke loudly, “Hey Mel—you there?”
“Mel?” I moved the tent flap aside and gingerly stepped into the tent. There was nothing here. No pack, no clothing, no personal items. The sleeping bag was gone.
“That’s strange,” Taylor said. “Maybe Mel could have gone back to the lodge and we just missed them?”
“Yeah. Maybe we should check out Dex’s tent.” I turned around, closing the flap behind you.
“Hey, check this out.” Taylor said, calling you back into Mel’s tent and pointing to the corner of the wooden flooring. Etched in freshly carved words, we read: “THE WORLD NEEDS YOU.”
“What’s that mean?” I asked. Taylor shrugged.
We headed in the direction of Dex’s tent, which was on the other side of the camp. I looked around as we walked, but there was no sign of them anywhere. We reached Dex’s tent, and I found the same thing; her tent was empty and bore the same message: “THE WORLD NEEDS YOU.”
I looked at Taylor and saw their unease. I got an odd feeling in my stomach as the two of us headed back to the lodge.
It made sense that they would have packed for this expedition, but it looked like they took every single thing they own. I hoped we’d missed them somehow; that maybe they’ll be there waiting for us to arrive.
But they weren’t.
I walked onto the deck and could tell immediately by the look on Rosin’s face. I saw her face fall as she looked past you to see if we’d brought Dex and Mel back with us. The rest of the group watched nervously.
“Did you find anything?” Rosin asked, quietly.
“Their stuff’s all gone,” Taylor said. “There was the same weird carving in each of their tents. It said, ‘the world needs us’ or something like that.”
Rosin’s face went cold. She took a deep breath and made an announcement.
“Everyone, thank you for meeting, but you’re not going to be leaving tonight. You’ve done great work today, and you’ll receive further instructions when we’re all ready. Please head back to your tents and get a good night’s rest.”
As people started to glumly put their packs on and head back, Rosin motioned to you and Taylor to stay.
“I’m afraid Dex and Mel have left us,” Rosin said.
“What?! Where would they have gone?” Taylor asked.
Rosin looked straight at me. “I have a feeling you know.”
I looked down at my shoes, feeling disloyal for my dismissal of Rosin’s cautionary warnings. (Did she know?)
“We better go find them then,” Taylor said. Rosin nodded and led the way.