“On your mark…Get set…GO!”
With sweaty hands, Caleb Lambeau thrust his paddle into the water. And dropped it.
“PICK IT UP!” Ben Gunderson, his partner, roared from the rear of the canoe.
Caleb’s shoulders tightened. He’d been at camp for only three days, but he’d hear that voice—in his nightmares—for the rest of his life.
“Get going, Lambeau!” Gunderson ordered as five other canoes glided past them.
Caleb snagged the paddle, wishing he’d never heard of Lake Wanabuku Sports Camp for Boys. When Dad had suggested it, Caleb pictured swimming and kickball and playing HORSE on a basketball court. But a biathlon? No way.
In pairs, the boys in Cabin 4 had to canoe across the lake and jog back to camp. It might have been fun except that the last group to arrive would be stuck with kitchen patrol. Plus, Caleb had ended up with the worst possible partner: bullying, bigheaded, Ben Gunderson. It was bad luck times a billion.
For the next half-hour, Caleb paddled like his life depended on it. Even so, he and Gunderson were the last to reach the other side of the lake.
“Good job, guys!” Rudy, their counselor, called as they floated into shore. “You’re halfway done.”
“No thanks to Lame-bo here.” Gunderson jerked the canoe onto the sand.
Caleb’s face burned at the nickname, but Rudy didn’t seem to notice. “Leave your life jackets here and follow me.”
“How far behind are we?” Caleb asked.
“About ten minutes.” Rudy pointed past a cluster of birch trees. “There’s the road. Stay on it, and it’ll take you back to camp.”
Gunderson set the pace. At first, Caleb kept up, but then his side started to ache. A few minutes later, he had to stop.
“I can’t run anymore.”
“You are such a wimp, Lame-bo.”
Lame-bo again. Caleb pretended he didn’t care. “Why don’t you go on without me?”
“It doesn’t count if we’re not back at the same time. We’re partners, remember?” Gunderson kicked a rock, looking as if he wanted to kick Caleb instead.
Caleb rubbed his side. He had to get moving or Gunderson was going to make his life miserable. Correction: Gunderson would make it more miserable than it already was.
To his surprise, Gunderson suddenly grinned. “We’re taking a shortcut.”
“A shortcut.” He pointed to the pine trees lining the road. “The road curves away from the lake here, right? But if we go through the woods and follow the shore instead, we’ll come out ahead of the others.”
“But Rudy said to stay on the road.”
“So, I think we should do what he said.”
Gunderson scowled. “Who cares what you think? If we don’t take this shortcut, we’ll end up with KP tonight. And then I’ll be really mad.”
Caleb felt his fists clench. Why did Gunderson have to be such a jerk? “Fine. We’ll take the shortcut.”
For a long time, they crunched through underbrush and wound around trees. Then Gunderson stopped.
“What?” Caleb said, coming up behind him. A creek blocked their path. “Oh. Guess it flows out of the lake.”
“Duh,” said Gunderson. “C’mon. We’re crossing it.”
While Gunderson tied the laces of his sneakers together and hung them around his neck, Caleb tested the creek’s depth with a stick.
“About waist high, but it might get deeper in the middle.”
Gunderson rolled his eyes. “Will you stop whining and come on?”
Holding his own shoes with one hand and the measuring stick with the other, Caleb waded in after Gunderson. Mud squished cold and gooey between his toes.
“Do you think there are leeches in here?” he wondered aloud, poking at the creek bottom. Strangely, Gunderson didn’t answer. He was almost halfway across now, and up to his neck in the water.
“See, I was right,” Caleb muttered. “It is deeper in the middle.”
There was a sudden splash, and Gunderson disappeared. Seconds later he popped up, his arms flailing.
Caleb’s heart thumped double time. “What’s wrong?” he called.
“Help!” When Gunderson went under a second time, the truth hit Caleb like a bucket of ice water.
Gunderson couldn’t swim!