I craved solitude, but some force in the universe delighted in denying me that. Teachers were gossiping behind me and I heard bits and pieces, “Aaron is such a strong and handsome man, with a good sense of humor, he’ll be pastoring our church on Planet X.”

I thought about men like Aaron. Having the attention of women makes a man feel powerful, but when he settles down with one, all of that power evaporates, like an oasis in the desert. It was getting hot and I didn’t know how long our supplies would last.

“Maintenance man, what’s your name?”

“Pete.”

“Oh, Peter, like in the bible, bold and courageous.”

“No, just Pete.” I could tell they were trying to build me up into their leader, and I also knew that once we got back to civilization, I would be cleaning their toilets, their metaphorical thrones, and they would look down on me or not see me at all.

“How many miles have we walked?”

I checked the tracker and lied, “looks like five miles.”

“We’re making good time,” they said.

The sky was black now and the temperature was dropping.

“I’m cold,” a teacher complained. So, I threw her a blanket and she smiled at me, but it was the type of smile that had sneered more often and her sarcastic lips gave me the shivers like a tempting kiss of death.

“This spot is as good as any,” I said. And I poured rocket fuel into a hole in the ground and lit a match. It burned like a pillar of fire and we all got warm. Then I lit my cigar.

“That will give you cancer,” a teacher said.

“There are many cancers, most of them invisible.”

“You’re such a negative person.”

“Someone has to balance out all the positive people.” Then I cracked open a beer and stared at the stars.

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