Summer Camp. A full week in that mysterious world known as “the outside.” Surrounded by kids nursing carpal tunnel injuries and vampiric levels of vitamin D deficiency. I was just convincing myself I would survive when a grim-faced Boy Scout approached, drawn across the road like an inner snippet of code inside him had sensed my presence.
“All I have is horseback riding and archery today,” he said.
There was an awkward pause as he stared and then wandered off. No dialog menu offered. No introductions. Just a declaration of fact. Something he was positive I, a complete stranger, might be interested in.
The next encounter came later that same afternoon. A dark-skinned, blue-haired kid with more than a hint of mischief in his eyes.
“Are you human?”
I refused to answer at first – the flashbacks were too intense with countless past lives screaming “I’m not on the list!”
And what was he? A Breton? Since when did they allow blue hair? All the things you can change from nostril width to brow height and I never once got an option for blue hair.
“Last I checked,” I finally said.
I think it was the wrong dialogue choice because he wandered off without further comment. Must’ve been a quest for Khajiits. Maybe Argonians.
Later, I was setting up camp with my troop and another boy came running up to our pavilion. With the urgency in his steps, I suspected a warning. Maybe this wasn’t our campsite and he was there to tell us we were trespassing. Or maybe one of my scouts had grabbed an unattended sweet roll. They’d do that without remorse.
“My friend needs help. He can’t breathe.”
Reality check. There was no I’ll follow you later option.
We ran to the next campsite over where a boy stood gasping for breath in the middle of the trail. I asked him to sit down and told my boys to head for the health lodge and flag down the first vehicle they saw.
I looked the boy over. He was crying and shuddering with each breath and I questioned his friend while I checked for any clues. Is he your buddy? No. Do you know him? He’s from another troop. Are any of your adult leaders nearby? No.
None of this is uncommon at a sprawling camp without zone boundaries. Though they were young scouts. They should’ve been following a buddy system when away from their leaders and it sounded like they’d only been doing so by chance.
The struggling boy sat with his head between his knees. I got him to straighten up and looked him in the eye to ask if he had any allergies. If he was on any medication. Did he have asthma? I got permission to check his skin for any bites or rashes.
We talked more about him. Calmly, slowly. His breathing started to settle.
“Should I get my inhaler?” asked his friend.
Administering someone else’s prescribed medication isn’t the best option but you might have to make that call. I had an Epi-pen that I’d left in our camp only seconds away. (Too bad for the lack of un-droppable quest items.) We weren’t anywhere close to needing that yet either, but in an emergency you can never say how quickly things will turn.
“It hurts when I breathe,” said the boy.
He pointed to the front of his throat. He could speak clearly and while he was having trouble, he was showing every sign he was getting air. No swelling, no obstructions. I felt his forehead and checked his neck.
“Are you sick?”
“I was sick before I came. But I got better.”
His breathing had slowed. Something approaching normal. A truck pulled to a stop on the camp road, just beside the trail. My scouts had found the next best thing to a medic – somebody with a direct line to him. The camp ranger got out of his truck and let me know he’d radioed in the emergency. I rattled off what little information I’d been able to figure out.
The boy’s face had become less flushed and his shallow wheeze a steady rhythm of sharp exhales. He’d gotten excited, I reasoned. Hyperventilated maybe, or all the trail dust in the air had aggravated whatever illness he’d recently gotten over.
“You’re going to be just fine.” I said this as much for him as myself. “The medic will be here soon and he’ll check you out.”
The boy nodded.
“I’m glad your friend was here,” I said. “He did the right thing going to find someone to help.”
It wasn’t long before the medic arrived. He’d gotten the details from the Ranger via radio on the way to the scene. He helped the victim into the front seat and asked his friend to ride with them to the health lodge.
By then, the boy who’d been gasping for breath on the trail looked like any other kid who’d just gotten over a good cry. Puffy eyes and a curious expression that was apprehensive but mostly excited about riding in an SUV with a first aid cross emblazoned on the side.
I thanked my scouts and we headed back to our campsite. My first quest and the only thing left behind had been a puddle of drool. Not even a Master Alchemist would loot that. Even so, the rewards were there and worth more than a trip to the Hall of Valor.