It’s summertime and summertime means a lot of things. Patios, splash pads, breaking into the zoo while high on mushrooms, watermelon. And one of my favourite activities of all: camping.
Camping is the quintessential summer endeavour. Being outdoors, connecting with nature. Basking in whatever climate Mother Gaia decides to bend the environment into to suit her fickle whim. Gazing with wonder at the Aurora Borealis emblazoned across the galaxy-strewn Heavens while pooping into a hole in the ground as mosquitoes cling greedily to every available inch of your exposed flesh.
Camping is recreational soul-cleanse that strengthens our tenuous bond with the almighty, fertile planet which has blessed us with the treasure of life. Also, one time I saw two eagles fuckin’.
The typical camping trip begins with my friends and I forcing as much beer into the back of a van as physics will allow, leaving just enough room up front for us to squeeze our persons into and, if we’re lucky, maybe some tents and, like, some hot dogs and relish or something.
The ride out to the lake is filled with much jollity, smoking and fond reminiscence of camping trips past, which makes the drive seem like a quick jaunt. Then, as we slowly crest a rising slope, the full majesty of the wilderness is spread out before our overwhelmed eyes. The piercing blue water of a massive lake, bordered by lush groves, sparkling beaches and the glittering sunlight reflected from the white shells of hundreds of enormous RVs.
We traverse the winding gravel road in search of a suitable spot to set up camp, ideally one as far into the wild as possible, as secluded as we can get for the optimal relaxation factor. And we’re all pretty misanthropic. If there’s a backwards cap in sight or a hint of an iPod speaker dock pumping out Sublime songs on the breeze, we haven’t gone far enough.
After a satisfactory campsite has been acquired and set up, the camping proper can begin. We cook our food over the gentle licks of our dancing fire, enjoying the warmness of each others’ company and drinking in through our ears the richly woven tapestry of sounds that the landscape has to offer us. The muted rustle of wind through the leaves. The perimetric symphony of chirping frogs. The achingly lonesome cry of the loon. Something squawking really loud in a tree real close.
What is that? It won’t stop. I try throwing some empty beer bottles toward the source of it to scare it off, but it’s no use, so I just try to get used to it and swear at it a lot.
We overdo it the first night, and the only memory I have of it when I wake up the following afternoon is a clouded recollection of two glowing blue eyes in the darkness when I had gotten up from my tent to pee. Probably just an owl.
The next day we spend swimming and fishing and hiking. I wander off and find a cool patch of velvety moss to roll around on and have a nap. But I’m jolted awake when I hear the sound of something moving through the trees. Fast. It sounds huge. I lie flat in the moss for what feels like hours, motionless, not daring to move until well after the sound of its growled breathing has disappeared.
When I return to camp I find out from the others that Roger has disappeared. No one remembers him leaving, he just disappeared. We find some of his tattered clothing hanging from a spruce branch not far from camp, but he doesn’t return by nightfall. That’s not like him at all. The rest of us share a tent that night.
I’m awakened into pitch darkness by a terrible clamour. A flashlight is flicked on, and for a moment I’m relieved to see that Beth is still near. But the moment is fleeting. She shouts suddenly and is gone in an instant. There is an inhuman screech, too horrific to describe, that seems to scrape at my brain. The last I see of Trevor is as he runs past me, wild-eyed and gibbering, as if driven to madness.
It’s morning now, and I write this on a strip of birch bark, with a sharpened piece of charred wood from our fire, not knowing what has happened to my dear friends, nor what will become of me. I will roll up this account of events and attach it to the leg of a crow I have snared, and hope that the crow finds its way to other people, so that they may know the horrors that lie in wait out here.
If this message reaches anyone, I will surely be dead by then.
So I will use my last bit of time in this life to say this: Stay inside this summer. And every summer. Don’t make the same mistake as me. Turn your air conditioners up to the highest setting and watch your plasma screen televisions. Don’t be lured toward the false beauty of nature, which dangles like the luminescent bulb of a lurking, deep-sea angler fish, waiting for its dull prey to become hypnotized enough to strike at it with razor teeth. Something is out here. Something terrible.
I will lie here and wait for my inevitable fate, huddled amongst these ancient, strangely painted stones that seem to mark the oddly human looking bones that I dug up to make my poop hole the first day we got here.
Photo by The Forest History Society via Flickr