Brian Robeson, a thirteen-year-old from New York City, boards a plan headed
from Hampton, New York to the Canadian north woods to visit his father. His
parents' recent divorce weighs heavily on him, as does "The Secret" that
his mother is having an affair. The pilot gives him a very brief flying
lesson in which Brian has control of the plane for a few minutes. The pilot
seems to be experiencing increasing pain in his shoulder, arm, and stomach.
At first Brian does not think it is very serious, but as the pilot begins
jerking in his seat it becomes clear that he is having a heart attack. The
attack stops and the pilot is dead; Brian is forced to take over the
controls. After a harrowing descent, the plane crashes into a lake in the
Canadian woods, where Brian is stranded.
Brian has little to eat and is injured from the crash, but believes he will
soon be rescued. He finds some strange berries to eat, which make him
extremely sick. He then finds a raspberry patch, where he spots a bear.
Brian constructs a shelter and in the middle of the night he hears a noise.
A porcupine has entered his shelter and Brian throws the hatchet in its
direction. It shoots its quills into Brian's leg, causing him severe pain.
Brian attempts to build a fire with no matches and eventually succeeds when
he learns how to strike his hatchet against a stone to ignite sparks. He
finds turtle eggs and eagerly eats them. One day a plane flies overhead but
does not see him and continues on its way, leaving Brian devastated and
hopeless. He attempts to commit suicide by cutting himself with his
hatchet, but survives the attempt and emerges from the experience
determined to embrace life and to take an active role in his own fate.
Brian soon catches his first fish and enjoys a big feast. That night,
however, a skunk enters the shelter and when Brian yells at the skunk, it
sprays him, temporarily blinding him and covering him with a horrible
stench. Brian perfects his tools and catches a foolbird, his first meat.
While he is cleaning the bird in the water, a moose attacks Brian, injuring
his ribs and his shoulder. Another unfortunate incident soon follows when a
tornado sweeps over the woods and destroys Brian's shelter.
The day after the tornado, Brian discovers that the chaotic storm has riled
up the water in the lake, and the tail of the plane had emerged from the
lake, reminding Brian of the dead pilot and compelling him to say a few
words for him. Lying in bed one night, it occurs to Brian that he could
seek out the survival pack in the body of the plane, and he determines to
build a raft to do so. After many incidents of trial-and-error, Brian
retrieves the survival pack from the plane. At one point he drops the
hatchet to the lake's bottom, but retrieves it with a long dive. On his way
back up to the surface, Brian sees the dead pilot's head underwater,
somewhat eaten by fish. Brian gets sick in the water but manages to make it
back to his shelter to get some sleep.
The next morning Brian opens the survival pack, which contains countless
useful items, some Brian rejects in favor of the self-sufficient methods he
has developed during his time in the woods. However, there is freeze-dried
food that he decides to cook immediately. He also finds something labeled
"Emergency Transmitter." He fiddles with it but it appears not to function.
As Brian is preparing his much-anticipated meal, a plane lands on the lake
to rescue a dumbfounded Brian sitting down to eat his freeze-dried meal.
This report prepared by Jeff Geddes