Not that he had much to say. He was thirteen and the only passenger on the plane was a pilot named—what was it? Jim or Jake or something—who was in his mid-forties and who had been silent as he worked to prepare for takeoff. In fact, since Brian had come to the small airport in Hampton, New York, to meet the plane—driven by his mother—the pilot had spoken only five words to him. (1.2)
The pilot, it seems, isn't a particularly talkative guy, but Brian isn't really in the mood to make friends anyway. He's way too busy trying to deal with his own sadness and anger, and to do that well, it's best not to talk to strangers. Didn't your mama ever tell you that?
The pilot sat large, his hands lightly on the wheel, feet on the rudder pedals. He seemed more machine than a man, an extension of the plane. On the dashboard in front of him Brian saw dials, switches, meters, knobs, levers, cranks, lights, handles that were wiggling and flickering, all indicating nothing that he understood and the pilot seemed the same way. Part of the plane, not human. (1.16)
Brian sees the pilot as just another part of the plane, which is not exactly a compliment. It's probably partially a result of his unfamiliarity with the plane and its instruments, but it also gives us a clue about where he is emotionally. All he sees around him are objects, not people.
His mother had driven him from the city to meet the plane at Hampton where it came to pick up the drilling equipment. A drive in silence, a long drive in silence. Two and a half hours of sitting in the car, staring out the window just as he was now staring out the window of the plane. (1.41)
Ouch—talk about uncomfortable. Anyone who's ever been on a road trip knows that half the fun comes from chatting and singing. Steely silence is not exactly the stuff of highway hijinks. You have to wonder if this is how things have been at Brian's house ever since the whole divorce thing started. And if that's the case, that means Brian is probably one lonely boy at this point.
I can't take it this way, alone with no fire and in the dark, and next time it might be something worse, maybe a bear and it wouldn't be just quills in the leg, it would be worse. I can't do this, he thought, again and again. I can't. (8.11)
Brian is overwhelmed not just by all the difficulties he's facing, but also by the fact that he has to face them all alone. Fun fact: if you're gonna get poked by a porcupine, it's a lot less painful if you have a buddy with you.
I have a friend, he thought—I have a friend now. A hungry friend, but a good one. I have a friend named fire. (9.38)
Awww. While this is a triumphant moment for the guy, it's also a bit sad that Brian's loneliness is so intense that just having a fire means so much. But it also reminds us that fires aren't just for warmth and light; they're a place to gather, to sing songs and have chats. We're betting Brian could do with a bit of that right now.
So much from a little spark. A friend and a guard from a tiny spark.
He looked around and wished he had somebody to tell this thing, to show this thing he had done. But there was nobody.
Nothing but the trees and the sun and the breeze and the lake.
It's not only when bad things happen that Brian wishes for companionship—he also wants to share his triumphs, like finally succeeding in building a fire, with someone else. We can't decide which is lonelier—suffering by himself, or triumphing all alone?
Look back, he thought. Look back and see the smoke now and turn, please turn.
"Look back," he whispered, feeling all the pictures fade, seeing his father's face fade like the sound, like lost dreams, like an end to hope. Oh, turn now and come back, look back and see the smoke and turn for me… (12.24-25)
Here, when he's willing the rescue plane to turn and come back for him, all of Brian's hopes are focused on reuniting with his father. He's not just missing hot showers, cheeseburgers, and television. His father, and his family in general, stand for everything he's really missing in the woods—food, comfort, safety, and above all, human companionship.
They would not return. He would never leave now, never get out of here. He went down to his knees and felt the tears start, cutting through the smoke and ash on his face, silently falling onto the stone.
Gone, he thought finally, it was all gone. All silly and gone. No bows, no spears, or fish or berries, it was all silly anyway, all just a game. He could do a day, but not forever—he could not make it if they did not come for him someday. (12.28-29)
For Brian, the worst part isn't all the hardships—the hunger, the fear, the pain—it's the belief that they're never going to come get him out of this mess. At this point, he really does think he'll be alone forever. He could very well live the rest of his life never seeing another human again. Think about that for a second, Shmoopers. It sends a shiver down your spine, right?
He jerked his mind back to the lake. There was great beauty here—almost unbelievable beauty. The sun exploded the sky, just blew it up with the setting color, and that color came down into the water of the lake, lit the trees. Amazing beauty and he wished he could share it with somebody and say, "Look there, and over there, and see that…" (17.29)
You'd think this would be a happy moment, right? It's gorgeous out there, and beauty is good. Well, that's true up to a point. Beauty is awesome—when you have someone seeing it with you. But when you don't, it's almost as if that beauty doesn't matter at all. What's the point of a lovely lake or a stunning sky if you can't share it?
But even alone it was beautiful and he fed the fire to cut the night chill. There it is again, he thought, that late summer chill to the air, the smell of fall. He went to sleep thinking a kind of reverse question. He did not know if he would ever get out of this, could not see how it might be, but if he did somehow get home and go back to living the way he had lived, would it be just the opposite? Would he be sitting watching television and suddenly think about the sunset up in back of the ridge and wonder how the color looked in the lake? (17.30)
Boy, the grass is always greener, ain't it? Out in beautiful nature, Brian can't wait to get back to his own cozy bed. But he's a smart kid, and he knows that once he's back there, another kind of isolation will take over—that of a divorced kid. So he might as well soak up all the beauty he can while he's out there. It might give him a nice place to imagine when things are less than peachy back home.