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October 2010 Volume 12 , Issue 10 submit to us!
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The+Camping+Trip
by James A Ford -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

The cry came again.

Its anguish riveted us.

"What is that?" My wife Marge asked in a tense whisper.

"Don't worry," I said too quickly, "it's a long way off."

"I'm not worried," she said, "I just want to know what it is." Crouched in this flimsy tent, I could see she was afraid.

So was I.

A wail that echoed through the forest. It spoke to me at once of loss and anguished loneliness as it pierced the night. I was not alone. My family sat near me, surrounded me, yet somehow at that moment they seemed faded, lacking color and intensity like a badly recalled painting. A portrait that one holds dear, stored in memory at the back of the mind waning darker with each passing day.

It was far off, the cry, but each assault was felt in my bones. Its sound gave the appearance of shaking the thin synthetic walls of the tent, concurrent with the wafting eddies of the cooling night breeze. Far off for sure, but not far enough. Darkness had fallen an hour ago and since then this singular call of the wild had made short work of our nerves. Several times an hour it came with no discernable pattern. Our own small battery powered lantern, like a familial traitor, served to magnify the cry's effect - casting odd angled reddish shadows on the tents synthetic walls.

"Now don't you wish you'd let me bring the gun. "I asked, looking at Marge in bitter triumph.

"No, I don't. With that gun You are more dangerous then whatever that is." She indicated the wail with a nod of her head towards the zipped up front entrance of the tent. Our two daughters were both reacting to the creepy cry in very different ways.

Our oldest, Liz, who had just turned ten, sat rocking slightly back and forth with her arms hugging tight around her knees draw up to her chest. Her dark eyes were wide saucers behind her new glasses which still seemed to perch awkward and out of place on her nose. She did manage a smile at her mother's comments about me. Was she actually having fun being scared? Her younger sister, Kayla four, was fast asleep in her sleeping bag, a tangle of blond hair covered her pillow. She was oblivious to the call of the wolf, bear or sasquatch that even now was probably sneaking up on our tent. Liz, Marge and I sat looking at each other in the tense red glow, waiting. Another far off cry rippled through the night and stilled us more then we already were.

This, was our first camping trip.

"So the legends are right."

"What?"

"The legends about the wailing in the forest."

"I told you about that didn't I?"

"No, I don't think so." She said, looking shocked

"It has been going on for decades, longer even, apparently first recorded back in the late 1800's."

"And you brought us here anyway?!"

"I didn't think it was true... shit it's... it's probably just some locals having fun with us city folk." I winked at her but somehow I didn't believe my own words.

Just after two a.m. the wailing cry stopped. We all fell into exhausted sleep. Around four a.m. Kayla woke up refreshed and ready to play, which she did happily for the next hour and a half keeping us all up. Ah, the joys of camping.

The next morning I woke at daybreak.

Everyone else was still asleep. After such a night I was running more on nervous energy then sleep. With cold fingers I gently pulled up the tent zipper, trying to make as little noise as possible and left the warm tent for the cool brace of the new morning. Not one cloud appeared in the sky. As I stood and stretched, arching my back and filling my lungs with the fresh new-day air I felt better at once.

We'd planned on staying in this little clearing two more nights, but the cries from the forest had upset us more than any of us let on. If it happened again tonight I doubted if we would stay, packing up in the dark and speeding away. I was determined to find out what had disturbed our night, and make sure it didn't again.

On stiff legs I made my way down to the little stream running through the clearing in front of our campsite. The stream was just wide enough to be difficult to jump across, perhaps five or six feet. It looked maybe a foot and a half deep and flowed swiftly. Kneeling down, I inspected the water, it appeared clean and clear. I scooped up a double handful and my fingers turned to ice, after a few seconds of mental preparation I closed my eyes and splashed the water into my face. Cold. The skin of my face seemed to retreat from the assault, trying to find sanctuary in the bones of my skull.

My eye lids felt stretched wide - I was now one hundred and ten percent awake.

Standing, I wiped my wet face on my sleeve and shook the water from my numbed hands. I ran my hands through my mop of light brown hair and looked up at our large tent. The sun was climbing now and the gray and red tent cast a long shadow that almost touched my feet. I smiled. I was surprised and quite proud that none of my girls had bolted from that tent last night to sleep in the relative safety of the locked car.

Turning my attention from the silent tent I scanned the little clearing. Weeds, short grass and small bushes gave it a wild yet pleasant, soothing appearance. The stream ran towards the forest and that seemed the rough direction of the night cries. After fifty paces or so the stream flowed into the trees. A narrow path, partly overgrown, continued alongside the water keeping it company as it flowed through the shade covered wood. The air was much cooler in the close confines of the dark forest, no longer warmed by the sun. I found myself longing for the jacket balled up back in the tent.

After ten minutes of steady walking I came to another clearing and stood once again in the warm sunshine. Similar to the clearing where my family slept this one was roughly the same area but with one major difference - there was no access to the dirt road leading to the highway. As far as I could see the path through the forest was the only way to arrive where I was now standing.

In the center of the clearing there stood a small log cabin.

Even from a distance I could see it was a ramshackle affair. I walked through the shrubs and wild grasses of the clearing right up to the front door; reached out gripped the handle and with a yank pulled it open. I didn't bother to knock, realism set my manners aside, it was doubtful such a shack was inhabited.

Once inside, my opinion was confirmed. Sunlight streamed through the doorway and the one open glassless window and I could see at a glance that the place hadn't been occupied for years, perhaps decades. It was a small one room affair and it was in pieces. A wooden table and several chairs broken and strewn about the room; some sort of discarded nest in one corner; old boots and a torn dirt encrusted gray raincoat in another. Dried droppings from years of exploring forest creatures littered the floor. Someone had lived here once but not for a long time.

I prepared to leave, then noticed for the first time in the back left corner - a surprise. A chair, unbroken. From the look of it, the only survivor from the smashed table set. It had escaped the wrath of whatever vandals destroyed the rest of the furniture. Strange. It was in good condition and wasn't covered in the thick dust-like soot that coated everything else.

It seemed used.

Perhaps I wasn't the only recent explorer. Perhaps, someone else had happened on this cabin and once finding this unbroken artifact decided to save it, preserve it safe in the corner, away from the destruction of the rest of the room. A silent witness, a hedge against further mayhem. Perhaps that explorer had sat in this chair, surveying the chaos. Without thinking about it further I sat down. It was just an old dusty wooden chair but it seemed very comfortable. Within moments I was asleep.

Then the dreams.

I awoke with a start.

The sunlight still streamed through the open door but now the angle was different. I looked at my watch. I had slept for over an hour, not a pleasant sleep but one filled with images. I had dreamt vivid dreams - so real, as if I had actually transported in time. I stood and felt the weakness in my legs. My body wet with sweat felt wrung out. One thing was certain: I knew what had happened in this cabin.

We had to get away from here, before night fall.

***

"Where did you go?"

"Sorry, I went for a walk."

"And?"

"I found a cabin."

Marge just looked at me waiting.

"I fell asleep on a chair."

"You fell asleep... we didn't know where you went, we were worried sick, and you were asleep?!"

"I wanted to find the source of the noise last night."

Her righteous upset vanished.

"What did you find?"

"The cabin... it came from there."

As we broke our little camp and packed the car the dream memories came back to me. A family, me somehow at its head, sitting at a wooden table a candle flickers. The door bursts open. Something enters, blood, screams. I could see it all. I could feel the bodies break apart. Each one except....

"Are you day dreaming?" Marge asked.

"No hun... well yeah maybe..."

"What is it, what happened at the cabin, what did you see."

"I had a dream there too."

In a hushed voice I explained what I had seen. Afterwards Marge began to cry.

Once everything was packed and we were all in the car with a tense sigh of relief I turned the key. Nothing. The car wouldn't start. I tried again, no ignition lights. The battery - dead.

I worked on the car for the remainder of the afternoon. Nothing seemed wrong with the car, I was no expert but I had some experience and the car seemed fine, and it was - at seven thirty just as the sun was going down I tried the key again - the car started.

"Finally. Thank god. Let's get the hell out of here." Marge said, overjoyed at the prospect of escape.

"Marge, you go, take the kids."

"What?!"

"Marge, I have too stay... trust me. In the dreams...I have something to do here and if not now it could be too late later."

"What are you talking about?"

"I don't know myself." She looked at me and knew I was not going to go.

"It was just a dream."

"No it was more."

"We'll come back tomorrow morning. First thing."

"Sure." I smiled and kissed her. Then did the same to Liz and Kayla. They didn't understand why daddy was staying but didn't protest. They wanted away, even at their ages they felt this place was wrong.

I watched as the car drive off slowly, and for a moment I was tempted to run after it, but knew I couldn't. Now the sun was down, only an red tinged afterglow in the west showed that it had ever existed at all. I turned and made my way along the path toward the little cabin.

A figure stood in the moonlit clearing in front of the cabin. Night had now fully fallen, the sky overhead full of stars. I had never before noticed the beauty of the sky at night, not like this, that vast expanse seemed to call me, create an irresistible pull. From my position crouched down behind a tree I could see the figure. A bold apparition - its outline well defined in the moonlight, yet lacking detail obscured by the darkness. Its arms appeared crossed over its chest, the creature's head tilted back as it wailed up at the sky. As if it cried out at the very cosmos. The image was both frightening and sad. None of the normal night sounds that one expects in a forest were present; no chirping crickets, no bird calls, even the wind seemed to have stopped blowing, in patient respect.

The figure ceased its call and brought its head up. At first I thought the creature was resting, gathering strength to loose another cry, that at any second it would once again throw back its head and scream at the stars. It wasn't resting - it stood motionless as if listening. I couldn't see its eyes but I could feel them on me. It was staring at me. I tried to move but was unable to budge. I felt rivetted to the spot. The cry, all along - a call to me to lure me. I alone was susceptible - my family had found the cry repellent and fled. On me, the sound produced the opposite effect. How could I have been so stupid. I felt a brief surge of panic and with it my vision blurred, the last sight I beheld before fainting was the creature's face now close enough to kiss me, the eyes awful and sad. Then - darkness.

There was a noise, somewhere.

I awoke, standing slowly. I'd been sleeping or unconscious on the little wooden chair. It was light out but not for long. I had sat here through the whole of last night, and most of today. Night would arrive soon, the dark engulfing this side of the earth like a smothering kiss. The cabin, I was in the cabin. It must be a dream. The creature was just a bad nightmare.

The clearing looked as I remembered it. Standing outside, in the high grass I knew without looking up the moon tonight would be near full. Soon the moonlight would illuminate the clearing and silhouetted the cabin. The stars above would smile a cold greeting, radiating a lonely beauty.

My family, and my old life now gone, I could take solace in the fact that my sacrifice would somehow spare them, spare everyone. I had been chosen. My fate sealed the moment I had first sat in the chair and fallen asleep.

Fate was all, and mine was here. I entered the house again and felt at home. The simple wooden chair waited for me in the corner. I took my place and closed my eyes. I needed to conserve my strength. Tonight, I would sing.

 
 
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Features -- October 2010 -- Beginning Month Issue