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Endless summer

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I met this girl last summer. How can I describe her? She was really weird, and that's the nicest thing I can say about her. Okay, that's not exactly true. Even though I didn't know her that well, I consider her a "special" kind of friend. We went through a lot together that summer, and I'll never forget what happened. When we met, it was just one of those days: when the sun's shining so bright that you're afraid it'll burn your eyes out right through your sunglasses. I was away at summer camp and so no one back home ever heard this story before. In fact, Gwen had wanted me to keep this secret for at least a year. Gwendolyn and I discovered the Fountain of Youth. Don't believe me, right? I didn't think you would . . . but listen to my story before you make any judgments. Gwendolyn and I were on those long mountain hikes we had to take each weekend in camp. You see, Gwen and I didn't meet until that summer, but we were in the same hiking group. We both hated hiking and that's how we first met, while we were both resting. I still remember her funny-looking camping gear. Her canteen, binoculars case, and backpack were all pastel blue, like matching luggage. But Gwen looked like the type of girl to have ugly pastel camping gear. Her wire-rimmed glasses and her hair pulled back in a ponytail didn't make her look like the camping type. I'm not, either, but I wasn't about to spend another summer at home, doing nothing. Anyway, like I said before, we were both resting. I took my canteen out and squatted close to a rock. "Why do they make us hike when it's 100 degrees outside?" Gwen asks me, out of the blue. Of course it wasn't 100 degrees, but when you're hiking uphill for about more than an hour, it sure feels like it's 100. "'Cause they're stupid," I said, bluntly. "They think we're mules or something." I poured the canteen's water all over my face. "You should've drank that instead," Gwen told me. It wasn't like I really wanted to hear advice from her. "Now you'll get dehydrated on the trip back to camp." "Oh, I have some more water in my backpack," I lied. "Speaking of camp, we better catch up to the others." "Okay." Gwen and I got up and started walking in the direction the group went. After walking for about five minutes, we came to a crossroad. Our group was nowhere in sight and neither of us could hear any voices or noises. "Oh sh*t," I mumbled, dropping my backpack in the dirt. "Which way do you think they went?" Gwen didn't look up. "You shouldn't swear," she said. "OK," I said. Was she for real? I know I'm not exactly a saintly type, but I don't swear on every other word. Besides when I'm real upset or distressed, like I was then, I have to let it out someway. "Sorry," I said. "But I don't particularly enjoy being lost." "Neither do I," Gwen said. "Let's just try the road on the right." So I picked up my backpack and we walked down the path on the right. After another few minutes, Gwen started humming. It was the Battle Hymn of the Republic. I rolled my eyes and then she started to sing: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored," "What are you doing?" I asked. "I'm singing," she said, like it should've been obvious. Of course it was obvious, but why was she singing? "I think we'd better stop here and rest," Gwen said. "This is hopeless." We both threw our stuff down and rested. The scene was kind of appealing, all things considered. A waterfall was nearby and the river was flowing right past us. I took out my stuff and looked helplessly at them. I guess I felt like cursing at that moment, but something diverted my attention. I still don't know what it was. It was a strange feeling I had, like there was someone watching us. All I could think about was how lost we were, though, so I didn't care if someone was watching us. After all, it could be help. "Do you believe in the Fountain of Youth, Chris?" Gwen asked, interrupting my thoughts. "No," I said. One of our camp counselors had told us the night before this supposedly "true" story about how an old man had spent his entire life searching for the Fountain of Youth. The last anyone had heard of the search was that he had tracked it down to be somewhere in these mountains. He went off to find it alone, but he never returned. Everyone just assumed that he had died somewhere along the way. Of course, all this happened a long time ago. "Why do you ask?" I said. "Because I believe in it," Gwen said, sighing. "Wouldn't it just be great it we went looking for it?" Was this girl for real? I couldn't believe my ears! It's not bad if you believe in something ridiculous, but to actually go looking for it? That was different. This girl was WEIRD! I gulped. "Now?" I asked. "Of course not," she said. I then fully expected her to laugh and say something like, "I was just joking," or "You didn't think I was serious, did you?" But instead she dumped her stuff out of her bag and looked up. "We'll look for it tomorrow," she said. Now, I've never been at a summer camp before, but I think that I made a pretty good campfire. Gwendolyn was off in Never-Never land organizing her stuff and I started to look through mine. It was pretty dark when we finished dinner--a bag of chips for me. But Gwen had about ten cans of corn and chili. I couldn't figure out why she had brought all that food. Neither of us had our sleeping bags, but at least I had my bug spray with me. Ever since I was a little kid, bugs have always been attracted to my skin. I remember one time I came home from a picnic with six huge, swollen bug bites. After that, my mom never let me go camping without at least two cans of bug spray. I walked over to the river we had camped by to get a drink of water and to fill up my canteen. I turned around just in time to see Gwen get all snuggled into her blanket and pillow. I remembered that morning when everyone was laughing at her for bringing all that stuff. After all, we were only going on a hike. "Gwen," I finally asked. "Why did you bring your blanket and pillow on the hike?" "I'm always prepared for everything," she answered, nonchalantly. "I even have a flare gun to shoot off tomorrow morning so that the group can have a chance to find us." "You have a flare gun?!" I screamed. "Why didn't you use it this afternoon!?! They could've found us by now!" "I forgot I had it," she said, unconcerned. Then she took out a folder filled with all kinds of notes and Xeroxed newspaper clippings. I strained to see what was written on them, but it was too dark, and my eyes were too tired anyway. Using my backpack as my pillow, I closed my eyes, trying hard to fall asleep. Maybe this was all one bad dream. The next morning, the sound of singing woke me up. It was the Battle Hymn of the Republic again. What was it about that song that she couldn't stop singing it? Can't she just sing a normal song? "WAKE UP," she said. "We have a long day ahead of us." She pointed to a tin plate with corn on it. "Have some breakfast." "You have a long day ahead of you," I said, gobbling up the corn. "But thanks for the breakfast, anyway." "I'm not forcing you to come," she said as she got her stuff together. "If you want to stay here all alone without any supplies, that's your problem." Taking out the flare gun, she loaded all her stuff into her backpack. She fired the flare gun into the bright blue sky and then she put that in her backpack, too. "You know," I said. "Something's been bothering me since last night about this whole thing." "Like what?" she said, like she had nothing better to do than to ask. "Like how you were prepared to camp out here and everything. You even brought all those newspaper clippings about the Fountain of Youth with you . . . on a hike! You also weren't--" "You read my notes?!" she yelled. It was the first time that entire summer that Gwen actually raised her voice. The truth was, I had absolutely no idea what those newspaper clippings were about. It was a "shot in the dark." But when Gwen made such a big deal about me supposedly reading them, it just then dawned on me that that's what they were. This whole nightmare finally made sense! "You planned this whole thing, didn't you?" I said, calmer, but thinking hysterically. "You went on this hike, so that you could get lost, search for the 'Fountain', if there is one... and then fire the flare gun so that everyone could find you." Gwen didn't look up so I continued. "But why?" I asked, pleading. "Why drag me along?" "I didn't plan to drag anybody along. You just happened to stop, also. Then I figured that it would be great to have some company." She finally looked up. "I'm sorry." I was so happy to finally discover the truth about this totally bizarre girl to be really upset. Still, I really, truly, wished she hadn't brought me along. Gwen strapped her backpack onto her back. "Are you coming or not?" she said. Her wire-rimmed glasses seemed to make her stare worse. I started to pack my stuff. "I'm coming," I said, exasperated, and wishing she were dead. After I finished putting my stuff away, I looked up at her and asked, "Where do you want to start first?" Gwendolyn pushed up her glasses and grinned. "Remember that old man, Marshal Barrett?" I shook my head. "Wasn't he the guy who went searching for the Fountain?" Gwen nodded. "One of the newspaper clippings I have states that his belongings were last found near a waterfall." She grinned again. "Do you know what that is?" She asked, pointing to the waterfall. "Let me guess," I said, dumbly. "Duh, the waterfall?" "You don't have to be sarcastic," she frowned. "Well," I said. "You don't have to treat me like I'm a second grader." "Okay," she said, "Anyway, I believe that Marshal Barrett was actually successful in finding the Fountain, because they never found his body--only his things. Wherever he is, the Fountain is. Let's start looking for it by climbing up the side of the waterfall." Directly to the left of the waterfall was a rather steep wall but we would, or should, be able to climb it. Gwen started up first, carefully digging her fingers into the cracks and crevices of the wall. She was up about ten feet when her backpack fell. "Dammit!" she yelled, hurriedly climbing back down. I had not even started to climb so I went chasing the backpack. The blue pastel was so ugly that I was actually thinking in my mind, "Maybe she'll get a better looking backpack now." But I felt bad for her because I knew all her stuff was in there. The backpack landed in the river against some rocks. Gwen was practically crying. I suppose I would've been, too, but the pastel was so ugly! Running into the water, Gwen stumbled whenever she hit a rock. I followed her, holding tight to my own backpack. We were getting really soaked because the water from the waterfall was completely falling on us and splashing us everywhere. Just then, I remembered something. "I thought you don't swear," I teased. " 'Damn,' isn't a swear word!" she screamed back. I couldn't tell whether or not she was crying because both of our faces had water streaming down them. I felt bad for teasing her, especially because of all the trouble she had been through to look for this "Fountain." "I found it!!" she yelled, joyously. "It's soaked, but it's waterproof!" I thought to myself that even a waterproofed bag couldn't have survived all that drenching. I hurried along to where she was hunched over, and then someone or something pulled me into the waterfall. The next thing I know, I'm standing and shivering in a dark cavern. I guess I should have been thankful to be out of the water, but now I was freezing, and I still had to deal with my monstrous, tall, dark, hideous captor. OK, I couldn't tell if he was hideous or not because the guy had a monk's outfit on. I couldn't even tell if it was a guy or a girl because I couldn't see his or her--it's face. Its rough hands picked me up by my shirt and dangled me about three feet in the air for a few seconds before finally putting me down. "What do you want?" a quiet but harsh voice asked me. "I'm—uh... I'm looking for..." I muttered. "the um, the Fountain... of... Youth," I said, barely above a whisper. Surprisingly, he/IT still heard me. "You think that you're worthy enough to drink from its rich waters?" IT said, chuckling ferociously. IT wouldn't stop laughing. I turned around quickly and yelled as loud as I could, "GWEN! In here! I'M IN THE WATERFALL!" "Where!?!" I heard a voice from outside question, absolutely dumbfounded. "IN... THE... WATERFALL ... " I repeated, slowly but surely. A few seconds later, Gwen's wire-rimmed glasses peered into the darkness. An incredulous look appeared on her face. "What the. . ." she broke off. I rushed over to stand beside her. Unfortunately, so did IT. "And who are you?" IT asked Gwen. "Are you searching for the Fountain, too?" Gwen became excited. "Is it here?" She almost exploded with eagerness. "Is it around here?" She went straight up to IT. IT pushed a hand against her face, stopping her in mid-step. "It's here alright ... " IT said, deliberately stalling. "And you are welcome to try your luck." "What are you talking about?" Gwen asked, shaking her head. "Is there something we have to do . . .something we have to prove--" "Only one of you may pass ... " IT grinned. "The other must be sacrificed." IT chuckled again. "She'll be sacrificed," Gwen said, pushing me forward. I turned around. "What the hell are you talking about? This whole thing was your idea!" "You don't believe in the Fountain," Gwen said, staring straight into my eyes. "To you, this whole thing was just a joke. Since all this was my idea, then you should he sacrificed!" "You dragged me along--" "I didn't plan to ... " Gwen said, coldly. "You admitted that you wanted company," I screamed. "Somehow you knew that when you reached the Fountain, SOMEONE would have to be sacrificed. You know everything about that stupid Fountain! That's why you brought me here!" "That's not true," Gwendolyn's said as her wire-rimmed eyes burned into me. How could she do this to me? "I'll pick!" IT said, grinning. IT enjoyed watching us argue. IT was one sick person/thing. "You were the first one here," IT said, pointing to me. "YOU shall be sacrificed." Gwen smiled and walked forward, into the darkness. ITs hands took my arms and held them behind my back, forcing me in the direction Gwen went. "By the way," I asked IT. "Are you a man or a woman?" "SILENCE!" IT yelled. Only a few candles dimly lit the hall to wherever it was we were going. Still, I could see Gwendolyn's ugly pastel backpack in front of me. "Gwen!" I yelled. "That's an UGLY backpack!" I looked on ahead of me. She didn't look back. Finally we reached a room, brightly lit with some torches. A large stone caked with blood stood in the middle. In front of the stone was a clear, huge wall of glass that stretched from one end of the room to the other. IT tied my hands behind my back and placed me in front of the bloody stone. IT picked up a disgusting excuse for an axe that was also caked with blood. "I'm going to be beheaded," I said. I then tried to recount memorable events of my life, like I thought you were supposed to in your last moments, but I couldn't. I could only remember the bizarre events of the past few days: I got lost, I got talked into going on this search, I got "stabbed in the back;" I might as well die, too, as long as I was on a roll. I placed my head onto the stone and looked up to see Gwen looking down on me. "Why don't you go on?" I asked her. "Your precious Fountain's up ahead." I closed my eyes, awaiting my fate. "Wait," IT said. "The blade is dull. I'll go sharpen it." "Great," I said. "You wouldn't want me to keep on hacking and hacking?" IT said. IT started laughing sadistically. IT carried the axe to the sharpening blade and sat down to sharpen it. I stood up, inspecting the room. Behind me, I heard Gwen's voice--singing. "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord . . ." What was she doing? I refused to turn around to look at her. Instead, I watched the sparks flickering from the sharpening blade. "He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored . . ." I really wished she would stop. My mind tried to zero out her voice and my eyes still focused intently on the sparks. "He has loosed the fateful lightning . . ." IT had finished sharpening the axe. IT stood up and grinned. "with his terrible swift sword . . ." At the moment Gwen sang "sword," we heard an incredible roar, like an eruption was taking place. The axe somehow slipped and stabbed IT in the gut. The blood dripped down ITs stomach and IT collapsed onto the floor. "It worked!" Gwendolyn screamed, rushing to untie me. "No," I said, sitting up. "ITs dead." "I mean the song!" Gwen said, excitedly. "I guess I do know everything about the 'stupid' fountain," she said as she eyed me. "Did you know that the song would work?" I asked. "YUP." "If you knew it would work, how come you didn't volunteer to be sacrificed?" "Because I wasn't sure it would work!" she sighed, like I should've known. Well, I guess it must've slipped my mind! I actually felt guilty, though, for what I had said about her pastel stuff. I was about to apologize when a scraping noise startled us. At that moment, the glass wall slid into the side of the room and we heard a man's deep voice order, "Come." Now, I'm not one to obey a perfect stranger just like that. He could've at least have said, "please" or given us a good reason to "come." But after all I had been through that day, I thought that I might as well do what the man said, and also because Gwen was already twenty feet in front of me and I didn't want to be stuck alone with a dead IT beside me. I hurried to catch up to her and we both saw it at the same time---the Fountain of Youth! You should've seen it. It was beautiful! The ivory it was made of glimmered and shined so brightly that it was the only illumination the huge room needed. The water that flowed from the tip of the fountain and ran down its hourglass shape was a crystal-clear bluish color. I was looking at it so intently that I felt I could almost taste it. I had never seen water that clean! "Do we just drink from it or what?" I asked Gwen. Gwen nodded. She cupped her hands and brought them slowly but carefully to the Fountain, as if she was scared to touch the water. She was about to sip the water when the same man's voice was heard, "Wait!" Gwen spilled the water and we both turned suddenly to look for whoever kept talking to us. We saw a very old man. His thin white hair was so long that it dragged on the floor as he walked toward us, seemingly out of the darkness in the background. His face was covered with wrinkles and he was so pale that his face seemed to be almost as bright as the fountain itself. "The song worked, Great-great-great grandfather!" Gwen screamed, excitedly. The old man smiled. Two thoughts were going through my mind at that moment. I know that probably was a personal best for me, but so many strange things had happened, anyway. First of all... Marshal Barrett was Gwendolyn's Great-great-great grandfather? And if he was, how did she recognize him? The man was old! "Can we drink from the water now?" Gwen timidly asked. The old man nodded. Gwen and I rushed to the Fountain with our hands cupped. I wasn't thinking much about eternal life. I was just thirsty! "There is just one condition," Marshal Barrett said. "Whoever drinks the water cannot leave. They must stay here to live out their eternal life, and help us guard the fountain." He directed our attention to the back of the room, where a large group of older men and women had assembled. Apparently, they had all taken a drink from the fountain. I let the water in my hands spill into the fountain. I wasn't about to spend my eternal life in this place. It wouldn't be considered living. "I'm leaving," I told Gwen. She nodded, and then she sipped the water in her hands. "You know that you can't leave once you drink the water!" I screamed, grabbing her arm. "Is that what you want?!" "It's what I came here to do," she said calmly and contently. "I believed in the fountain. I want to live forever." I stopped and looked at her for a moment. I just then realized how serious she was about eternal life. I slowly backed off. "Well," I said to her, softly. "I guess I'll be going now." I was reluctant to go on but I couldn't stay, and she couldn't leave. "Don't tell anyone about this, Chris? OK?" Gwen said to me. "At least not for a year or so." I nodded, solemnly, still in shock. She smiled and waved goodbye. I turned around and I never saw her wire-rimmed glasses or her pastel backpack again. I suppose I could've made things mushier and said stuff like, "I'll never forget you." But I didn't really know her that well, and I never got a chance to. So back I walked... through the sacrificing room, where IT still lay, through the dimly lit hall, back through the waterfall, to the outside world. I breathed freely now. This was where I would happily spend my non-eternal life. I got drenched all over again, of course, and I stumbled on through the river. But at least I was free. I sat down on a rock to rest. It was late in the afternoon and I was starved. I heard a yell, and someone called my name. I turned around to find my camp group! "How'd you find me?" I asked, jumping up to meet them. They wrapped me in a blanket because I was still dripping wet. I must've been quite a sight! "We saw the flare this morning," one of my counselors said. "We've been looking for you two ever since." He looked around, still very concerned. Then I remembered why. "Where's Gwendolyn?" he asked. Uh-oh. I searched my mind for the answers. "She went to this river, and I never saw her again," I said, slowly, and unsure of my statement. "What?" the counselor said more alarmed than ever. "Did she drown?" "Nooooooo!" I yelled, suddenly. "She wanted to go." The counselor looked confused so I continued. "She's alright, I mean," I said, trying to sound convincing. "She found family and they took her home because she said we were lost. But I didn't want to go. I said I'd wait for you guys." I had to change the subject. "Um... I'm real hungry ... " I said, whining. "Okay," my counselor said. "Let's go back." I sighed, silently and got up to answer the eruption of questions that were directed towards me. As we headed back to camp, one song kept playing in my head: Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord ... He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored, He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword, His truth is marching on . . .



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